I’ve been using Twitter now for 2.5 years. Honestly, I’m still grappling with the question: what the heck is Twitter?
Wikipedia, never short for answers has this:
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., that enables its users to send and read other user messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page.
That’s not really what I’m looking for. You see, I certainly know what it is, in terms of that dry level of description. What I’m looking for is more of a contextual view of where it fits, and that is where we go down the rabbit hole…
I’ve always hung my hat on “it’s a tool in the web/community developer’s toolbox”. That’s true, but what kind of tool? Obviously there’s a gulf of difference between a sledgehammer and a micrometer, and in Social Media, there is probably even more of a divide between some of the tools.
In order to put it into a little more context, perhaps a history of the general trends I’ve seen in Twitter might be of use:
- 2.5 years ago, it seemed to be mostly people tweeting about social media, cup cakes and bacon.
- 2 years ago, the hash tag began to appear in greater prominence. It had been around since almost the beginning, allowing us to work our way around the obvious failing of the system in its lack of categorization.
- 1.5 years ago it was all about the fail whale. Twitter’s down, oh my God…the world is ending.
- 1 year ago, the anti-Social Media backlash started to play in. Too many wannabes, posting information that was wrong, self serving, or outright plagiarized.
- .5 years ago – the rise of accounts on auto pilot. They randomly tweet quotes, but strangely never engage with anyone. And somehow they get right around 54k followers in couple months. Spam spam spam spam…
In that time, many of the folks I used Twitter to converse with have come and gone. The burn out rate must be staggering…I really would love to see some stats on that. From my point of view, the folks that stick with it tend to be the folks with a common interest, such as my friends from the Red Sox hash tag. Simply being on Twitter to be there doesn’t seem to be enough to really engage users long term.
Having watched over the years at the open rates on the links I can share, I can definitely say a couple things:
- The open rates on links are way down.
- That may be due to me posting more information that is arcane or of interest to a very limited audience.
- I suspect it really as to do with a fundamental change – I think Twitter is becoming even more of an echo chamber and most users are more interested in the outwards flow of information. They’re here to lecture, not converse…
The whole idea of brands on Twitter has been a failure for me. I go to Twitter for conversation. I don’t want to talk to a #$%@ing brand, I want to talk to people. If I want to buy something I Google it and go get it. Period.
Content brands are a different story. I do like getting news alerts from sites via Twitter. For me, the pitch has to be right. CNN does a good job, so does Drudge, but I found I had to drop TechCrunch and several others who simply flooded the stream with stuff of little to know value for me. I can’t tell you what is right for you, but I can certainly tell you when you’ve crossed the line.
So, what the heck is Twitter?
- A good back channel communication stream
- A great way to open discussion on formerly closed communication streams like TV, sports and events
- A lump of clay that maybe you might mold into something useful
- A system in search of a reason raison d’être
That I’m still asking the question, this far in, is in part the answer. It is, at least in part, a failure, in that it hasn’t managed to truly define itself after several years of existence.
So I ask you all, what is Twitter to you? Fill the comments with wisdom…