December 11th, 2007
There’s a lot of Twitter hype in the blogosphere today, and I’ve contributed plenty of my own Twitter hype in the past. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to offer some anti-hype, derived from my own experience using Twitter — an explanation of why I STOPPED using Twitter.
For a period last summer, I was a Twitter addict — addict really is the right word. I found Twitter to be mesmerizing, which partly reflects the brilliance of the design and partly that I was following really interesting, insight, enjoyable people, whose random musings were worth following (and my high opinion of the people — many of whom read this blog, and whose blogs I read — remains unchanged).
But here’s the problem, and why I quit (with the requisite 12-step program, yadda, yadda):
Twitter is massive waste of time.
Let me immediately qualify that — it’s not that ALL of Twitter is a waste of time. It’s that TOO MUCH of Twitter is a massive waste of time. Some aspects are hugely valuable and well worth the time. There’s really interesting “conversation.” There’s connectedness. There’s discovery.
But the noise to signal ratio is WAY too high. And the temptation to Tweet for the sake of Tweeting is WAY too high.
An example of high noise to signal is the Twitter “half conversation” — where two user are talking to each other directly, but you only follow one of them. So you hear half the conversation, like listening to someone on their cell phone. It’s quasi-voyeuristically interesting sometimes, but mostly it’s just annoying.
And the nature of networks means it’s impossible to ever follow everyone who the people you’re following are following — because then you’d have to follow the people those people are following, and the people THOSE people are following (and before you know it, you’d be Scoble — and few people have that superhuman capacity). So it’s guaranteed, by definition, that your Twitter feed will be filled with half conversations.
But the big problem was that I was paying attention to Twitter too often when there was something much higher yield I should have been paying attention too — especially work I needed to get done.
The web itself — Techmeme alone — is a huge blackhole of distraction. It’s hard enough to stay focused when you work on the web.
But Twitter has turned distraction into an art form. It’s like hanging out at a bar with a bunch of interesting people (some of whom are talking on their cellphones) and forgetting that you have to go home. Which, when done in moderation, is a very GOOD thing. But it was too hard to moderate Twitter. With Twitterific, it was literally always on.
And so I decided that I needed to shut it off.
I’m not sure that this is a failing on the part of Twitter — perhaps its cup runneth over. But it does make me wonder whether it will ever catch on beyond geeks who thrive on spending massive quantities of their lives on the web. (And, yes, hi, my name is Scott and I’m a web geek — I speak from experience.)
Twitter shares much in common with Facebook and MySpace — socializing on steroids, round the clock, always on, with no limits or boundaries or clearly defined utility. Which, again, are not inherently bad, and can actually be very good.
I guess it’s a matter of personal choice (e.g. I don’t watch much TV), and what type of user an application wants to serve. For people like students and web geeks, who are already predisposed to sink a lot of time into the web, applications like Twitter and Facebook make a lot of sense.
For people who look to the web as a tool for efficiency rather than time wasting (e.g. people who use search instead of randomly surfing for what they want to find), the first generation of social apps my prove to be just playthings, rather than applications that make their lives easy and simpler (again, think about search as the archetypal web app).
That said, Twitter and Facebook are pioneers — proving grounds for technology that will evolve into highly useful applications (e.g. Google wasn’t the first search engine).
In many ways, the web has become the new TV, i.e. a way to veg out — Twitter and Facebook make that time wasting social, which is probably a good thing on balance. But it still sucks time away from “real life,” i.e. family and work and having time to spend with people IN PERSON.
I’ll add as an interesting footnote that although I haven’t Tweeted for months, I continue to get new followers on Twitter every day — which is evidence that the network is expanding somewhat randomly and arbitrarily, rather than based on clear value (i.e. decisions about who to follow on Twitter are typically impulse).
So to all my Twitter friends — I’ll miss you…but not really. I read your blogs and you read mine, so I guess what I’ll really miss are your random musings. That is, those that you don’t blog. Well, you know what I mean.
That’s my story — and I’m blogging it rather than Tweeting it.
Hmmm, well that seems to have struck a nerve.
Charlie O’Donnell objects to this being on the top of Techmeme, which of course has nothing to do with what one user of Twitter thinks, but rather many users of Twitter who either strongly agree or disagree with what I tried to articulate.
Many of the reactions (very few of which, I’ll observe, are less than 140 characters) strike me as similar to the reactions I got to my mobile web sucks post — the problem isn’t the technology, it’s that I’m a not a good user. If I were a better user, than I’d find more value.
And I don’t disagree with all of the comments and suggestions below about how Twitter can be useful and valuable — that’s how I got addicted.
The problem is that breakthrough technologies should make you feel smart, not dumb, make your life easier, not harder. I come at this not as industry analyst, but as an individual user who had a net negative user experience.
I was actually motivated to take the time to experiment with Twitter, and try to figure out how to make it work. How much time do you think mainstream users (assuming that is Twitter’s ultimate market) will give it before they give up?
The lesson I’m looking to learn from experimenting with Twitter, Facebook, and other apps, is how such applications become indispensable. I’ve heard a lot of good argumens for why Twitter has value — if properly calibrated — but not why it’s indispensable.
I got addicted to Twitter, and then tried seeing if I could live without it. And I did just fine.
But if I tried living without search, email, IM, web bookmarking 0r news aggregators (Techmeme) — then I’d be in pain.
Twitter may be the first step on an evolutionary path to something indispensable, but for me, it’s just not there yet.