"The Joy of Twitter"

After a friend blogged about not liking Twitter so much, I thought I’d blog why I do!

I think that starting from (say) Facebook is the wrong place to understand Twitter. For me, Twitter is not really social networking, but more like a blog, so starting from blogspot is probably closer to the mark. In fact, Twitter is a bit like a blog and RSS feed rolled up into one, with guaranteed easy (and quick) to digest morsels. I accept that that this in itself raising questions about meaningful relationships, soundbites, and attention spans, but perhaps I’ll cover that another time.

So, take this morning – I logged in, and discovered 34 updates waiting. This took me probably less than a minute to read. Compare with trying to looking at 34 friends’ updates on Facebook (yawn!), or worse, trying to read 34 blog posts.

I guess there’s two parts to being on Twitter – the first is posting your own tweets, the second is following others. I personally think to do the first without the latter is a bit narcissistic. On the other hand I know plenty of people who ‘lurk’ – that is follow others without actually posting (much) themselves.

If we start, then, with why one might follow someone on Twitter, I can think of a few reasons:

  1. To be entertained/amused (e.g. follow stephenfry)
  2. To be informed (e.g. follow cnnbrk, or tweeters at demonstrations)
  3. Because you care about the person you’re following, and are interested in what they have to say.
  4. To boost their follower count (e.g. a charity)

Oops – missed one off:

  1. If you’re a spammer

In this regard, these are the same reasons as you might read someone else’s blog – or indeed read a newspaper or magazine, or listen to the radio. I see blogging very much as an extension of the traditional media, and bloggers are analogous to columnists or DJs.

Now, contrast this with the reason you’re friends with someone on Facebook

  1. They’re a friend, or
  2. You have no idea who they are, but you want to boost your ‘friend’ count
  3. They’re famous, and you want some vicarious kudos from having a famous ‘friend’

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh there? In any case, the first item definitely further breaks down into people you are in regular contact with, with whom Facebook is a supplementary communication mechanism, and old/distant friends, with whom Facebook is the only (or major) communication mechanism. I think Facebook is fanastic at this second point in particular – I can ‘touch’ people who I have a connection with, but don’t really see or communicate with in any other way.

Of course Facebook is a very poor, or ‘thin’, means of relationship and communication. But a lot better than none at all, IMO.

But I digress….

Back to Twitter. So why do people tweet. Well, the reasons are basically the same as above, with one addition:

  1. To (try to) entertain/amuse
  2. To (try to) inform/provoke thought/promote discussion
  3. To let those who care about you know what you’re doing
  4. To try and sell Viagra
  5. As historical record/diary/journal

The last one perhaps sounds a bit grander than I would intend, but my first “blog” was essentially me recording my efforts at the gym, and were intended solely for my consumption. It gradually expanded to other bits and pieces I wanted to record (not unlike del.icio.us, now I come to think of it), and then grew to be general comments on like. Of course, it begs the question why I (or anyone) would want their journal to be public…

This trend continues – my tweets and blogs are essentially my own musings, perhaps a catharsis even. I attempt to pick off the entertainment and informative aspects too (and succeed with rarely paralleled grace and flair, naturally). So take my recent(ish) Stag Weekend adventure. I tweeted the whole thing, with the intention of providing both a running commentary and an historical record I could roll up into one blog for the whole of humanity to use to enlighten themselves, and for 23rd century anthropologists to use to deepen their understanding of British culture in the noughties.

So, Twitter is plain fun. It takes a very light touch to use – whether tweeting or reading others. I laugh at loud at times, I enjoy reading what others have got to say, and I’m exposed to thought provoking and stimulating material I would otherwise not come across. On the other hand – this post is probably approaching an hour of my time. No less enjoyable, but considerable more effort to write and read.

Long live Twitter.