Call me a sellout (I’m ashamed already), but I have it on pretty good authority that in order to be a good blogger, you need to be on Twitter. Now that I’m taking this blogging thing a little more seriously (on the Omniture Blog), I went ahead and made an account.
The straight facts? It is a pretty good way to spread the word to a crowd of people with a certain interest, though it is annoyingly freeform and completely lacking in structure. Keeping track of a single conversation is next to impossible unless you happen to be following all participants, and even then it’s tough.
Essentially Twitter is like Facebook status updates, with the limitation that it cannot be more than 140 characters. To get a feel for what it’s like, imagine broadcast radio mixed with TXTing abbreviations and the collective intelligence level of a 5-year-old with a bullhorn.
The @ symbol is used to direct messages to specific people, the # symbol is used to denote that your tweet has to do with a specific topic, and RT means retweet – essentially someone is repeating another person’s comment. When you follow someone, their tweets will show up in your stream, unless they’re replying to a specific person that you’re not following.
Why Do Intelligent People Who Value Their Time Do This?
It’s a fair question. The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous and without care, you can waste your life reading the world’s largest collection of non-sense.
Where I think the real (perhaps only real) value lies is in the hashtag (#). Communities of people form around particular hashtags, and whenever they say something about that particular topic, they’ll use the tag. Anytime someone uses that tag, it’ll show up in your stream. An example: a web analytics community has formed around the #measure hashtag, so they’ll put that somewhere in their tweets about web analytics, and anyone who’s interested can add those to their stream.
The problem with Twitter is that anybody can say anything, so the experience depends largely on the communities that you participate in and the relative intelligence level of the people that make up the community. I find it much easier to be part of the #measure community (web analytics) than, say, the Miley Cyrus community.
It’s Terrible, but I Can’t Look Away
If you’re interested in what’s happening on Twitter, but don’t want to participate (and who can blame you), I would recommend you take a look at http://friendsignal.com/ or http://trendistic.com/. FriendSignal makes a tag cloud of popular topics on Twitter which are links to pages that show you what everyone is saying about that topic. If you’re interested in seeing how a particular topic is trending over time, then check out Trendistic.
Bottom line: Twitter is not for everyone. I wish that my involvement wasn’t really needed, but I intend to make the best of it. By limiting the number of people and topics you follow it is possible to be a contributing member of a meaningful community. If you have trouble keeping up with your Facebook friends, then stay far away from Twitter.
If you’re getting into Twitter in any real way, then you’ll have to use an application of some kind to keep track of the madness. I was told to that TweetDeck is the best and I’ve not been disappointed (it also does Facebook). They also have an iPhone app if that appeals to you.