December 11th, 2007

Why I Stopped Using Twitter


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.

  • Actually, Twitter has its own pros and cons. The audience is different but people started thinking themselves among the audience. It is a great way to keep team updated with up-to-date information.

    Its not for all. I just evaluated it and came to know that the guys whom I was following never replied back and few were following me. But why?

  • Maja

    I recently dove into the twitter-sphere by watching twitter's introductory video on their website. The main premise seems to be this: that people will feel and be more connected if the "little" happenings in their lives get micro-bloggedto their friends and potential friends. The video mentions blogging that you are "having a cup of coffee" or "reading a book", etc. To tell the truth, how does anyone have the time or enjoy some peace and quiet when they have to twitter their daily activities to "keep in touch"? Time wasting indeed.

  • Its not fair to call these latest technologies a massive waste of time. While its agreed that there are too many applications out there, that may not really sound useful it all depends on what you want and how you want to use it. For me, twitter is my friend and it follows me wherever i go. It helps me to catch all the ongoing action and I simply love it.


  • I have just decided to experiment with twitter, there was a lot of talk about it at the recent WordCamp UK conference and so, being in the web trade, I thought I should get some first hand. I find it hard to believe that I would ever find it addictive. It seems to be an utter waste of server space, or am I missing something?

  • I think you've distilled many of my gripes about Twitter. Besides just hearing half the conversation, many times there's simply no conversation, it's simply self-proclamation. I feel like I'm in a room where whoever yells the loudest and most often gets heard. I have a sneaking suspicion than 5-10% of users are responsible for 90% of all tweets. And as you say many of these posts and observations are fascinating, but an awful lot are just clutter. I do want to follow some of the big thinkers on Twitter, but if they tweet 20 times a day and my best friend tweets once a week, I'll miss her posts. So what good is a social networking tool that buries the most important posts from the most important people? The simplicity of Twitter is what holds it back. Beyond just its scaling problems, the tool is too crude to really capture meaningful interaction. I think there is some very interesting dialogue taking place on Twitter, but I'm back to where I was a year ago: if the top visionaries in new media have an idea to share, please flesh it out and I'll read your blog. For richer, more reliable interactions w/ friends, I'll stick with Facebook.

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