Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is Twitter (to me)?

I often come across people who say that they understand the point of Twitter. Given the fact that I am an active twitter user (according to, I am among the 500 most active and 500 most followed Danish twitter users), I thought I'd try to explain how I use twitter, and why it's not just the same as facebook statuses or instant messaging.

Before continuing, I should probably make clear that I am in no way any kind of communications expert, or even particular knowledgeable on the subjects of digital communication, social media, and social networks.

Having said all that, let's go into how I view Twitter.

For me, Twitter is a great media for social dialogue. It's not just someone telling me something, but rather a continuous conversation, with multiple entrance points and nearly unlimited participants. This can be a intimidating at first, but as soon as you realize that you can do it on your own premises, it works for you.

Let's try to see how a conversation usually get going.

1) Somebody posts something
2) Multiple people either re-tweets the post (sometimes adding their own comments)
3) People react to either the original tweet or a re-tweet.
4) People respond to the responders

The great thing about this is that you don't have to have been part of the conversation from the start - you can just jump in at any point, and add your view to the conversation (or reinforce somebody else view by re-tweeting).

Given the fact that you can only see tweets addressed at other people if you also follow that person, the conversation can also be a bit fractured, but at this point, twitter users have found out how to work around this (adding a dot in front of the tweet if it might be of general interest).

I hope you can see why this is different from both facebook statuses, where only a limited group of people can see it/participate in the conversation, and instant messaging, which are even more limited.

This is what makes Twitter more interesting for me.

Still, it wasn't always like that. I have been using twitter since the end of 2008, or thereabouts, but I didn't really start actively using it until summer last year. The reason I didn't use it so much before then, was that I had a hard time figuring out how to use the media so it worked for me.

So, what changed?

1) First and foremost, I got past a critical mass of people I follow. This means that there are always some kind of conversation going on, which I can dip into, if I feel like it.
2) Closely related, I learned that I don't have to read all tweets. My usage of twitter is to log in, and read the tweets on the screen. I generally don't scroll back, though if someone post a reply to someone else, which catches my interest, I will generally try to trace the conversation back.
3) I learned to ignore the fact that people don't react to my replies to their tweets. It's important to remember that at the time they read them, they have moved on in their conversation. Also, unlike , people get to pick and choose what conversations they want to participate in, without being considered rude.

I cannot stress the last point enough. It's not rude not to engage in a conversation on Twitter - instead it's rude to insist on a conversation. If people don't feel up to communicating with you, then look for a conversation somewhere else.

Hopefully, this post has made it a little clearer what Twitter can be used for. Keep in mind, however, that Twitter is different things for different people - some people use it to talk with their friends, other people use it as a sort of RSS feed, keeping an eye for interesting links being posted, and yet other people use the media entirely differently.

On an end note, just remember that because of Twitter's nature, you can't tell where your tweets will end up and who will read them. So, as in everything on the internet, think before you post.

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Blogger barmonger said...

Another equally important aspect of Twitter, imo, is the use of tags.

Tagging is when you add #-tags to your tweets (such as #science, #hubble, #sports etc) to indicate what subjects your tweet is about.

Most Twitter clients allow you to watch tags and feed you all tweets concerning the subjects you are watching.

This makes it possible to get the latest information about subjects, regardless of whether you are following the person posting tweets on that subject.

Tags also makes it possible to follow events in real-time as they unfold, such as tsunami warnings, natural disasters etc.

For instance, you can follow #SinghBCA to get the latest info from the Singh vs BCA case or follow the #astronomy tag and get the latest information about astronomy.

April 11, 2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Yes. I probably should also have mentioned tagging - which is yet another entrance to conversations.

April 11, 2010 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Dumbass said...

> The great thing about this is that
> you don't have to have been part
> of the conversation from the start
> - you can just jump in at any
> point, and add your view to the
> conversation (or reinforce
> somebody else view by re-tweeting).

I'm not sure I understand exactly how that's different than posting a message on an online forum.

Comparing Twitter to Facebook is all well and good... but I personally don't see the point of Facebook so I'm still having trouble seeing where you're coming from.

April 15, 2010 7:52 AM  

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