Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter Haters (Twaters) Unite!

Well, it's official. The Twitter phenomenon is over. I've been inundated all afternoon with copies of the new Nielsen study that showed problems with Twitter's "stickiness." According to David Martin, Nielsen Online's vice president for primary research:
"more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month. Or in other words, Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent."
One post said, "Twitter is a white hot's pretty hollow inside." Another compared it to the CB radio craze. The funny thing is, we've been here before -- and will probably be here again
Everyone who thinks Twitter is pointless is gleefully sharing this article -- those that can use e-mail, that is.

And that's really the point. If you're on the wrong side of the digital divide, it can be almost impossible to comprehend the value of this or any other Internet application.
Let's take a step back in time to when e-mail was new. What good is e-mail? If you only get spam or forwarded stupid jokes, then it isn't worth much. And you can't e-mail someone who doesn't have an account -- but you could call them, or even send a real letter. So why bother with it?
Because it's a useful business tool. Because archived e-mails are easier to search than paper documents. Because it's more economical than snail mail. Because it's faster than snail mail. And so on.

And yet we all know people who still have little or no use for e-mail. Even if they have accounts, they're seldom used. And if these folks really have to use it -- well, they sometimes need a little help. (How many company decision makers still rely on their assistants to handle the Interwebtubbie stuff?)

And Twitter's basically the same. Like e-mail, it's what you make of it. There's plenty of nothing being said on Twitter, but there are things of value going on, too. Businesses are using it to communicate with customers. Performing artists are using it to connect with fans. News organizations are using it for headline news feeds. And so on.

So all those Oprah fans who joined because she said to, looked at it, scratched their heads and then closed their accounts, don't matter much (in my opinion). If Oprah had told them to all buy Yankee screwdrivers they would have, and then placed the tools in closets or drawers where they would sit unused.

Because that's what Twitter is -- a communications tool. Like the Yankee screwdriver, it doesn't do all things equally well. But if you're a woodworker or fine furniture maker, there are times when no other type of screwdriver will do. And if you're running an Internet-oriented business, there are times when Twitter is ideal.

And is Twitter like CB Radio? Well, that was originally a communications tool also. Sure, it got to be a big fad in the late 1970's, and the on-air chatter eventually killed its effectiveness for professional truckers. But the concept's still around -- truckers now use cell phones for two-way communications, which filters out all that over-the-air noise.

Ditto with Twitter. You don't have to get updates from everyone in the world. Just the people (or businesses) you're interested in. That communications band can be as tightly focused as you want it to be.

Doesn't bother me that people are coming and leaving. I didn't follow them anyway (I suspect few did). I can talk to professional colleagues, post notices for upcoming business events, and do a little crowd-sourcing when necessary.

So please, twaters, stop with the article forwarding. I got it already. And what I really got is how much you don't get it.
- Ralph

Day 25 of the WJMA Podwatch. (No, they don't Twitter either.)


  1. The problem with twitter is, it was not invented for a purpose or a purpose in mind. Take anything like email, IM, even you tube, craigslist etc. they were started for a purpose. People understood why they are using them, and - easily. Look at twitter. Tell me what is the purpose behind twitter. It was found by a bunch of crappers. If they can make twitter useful for something then it is good otherwise its waste. Look at for yourself.

  2. According to Wikipedia (I know, not the best of sources) Twitter's chief architect Jack Dorsey "started [a] company to dispatch couriers, taxis, and emergency services from the Web.... building on dispatching and inspired in part by LiveJournal and possibly by AOL Instant Messenger, he had the idea for the realtime status communication."

    So Twitter was conceived for a purpose by someone with experience in short-form communication. And I think Twitter's strength is that it has a very basic framework that allows users to use as they desire. Thus the rise of hash marks, sites like TinyURL to crunch down big URLs for Twitter use, etc. that help make the tweets more useful (at least from a data management standpoint).

    As far as content goes, I agree with Theodore Sturgeon, "90% of everything is crap."

    But that other 10% I find especially valuable (and it's where hopefully my tweets fall).

    Let me go back to my analogy of the Yankee screwdriver. You can make the case that it's a useless tool because it doesn't drive nails like a hammer does, or that it doesn't have the same overall utility as a regular flathead or Phillips screwdriver. But there are specialized situations where the best tool for the job is a Yankee screwdriver. Is it the one tool the average Joe should own? Probably not. But for the serious woodworker, absolutely.

    I find that Twitter is a handy tool for what I want to do professionally and personally -- and that's how I use it. I have no problem cutting through the noise, and quite frankly, if the general public eventually abandons Twitter (like they did CB radio), that's fine, too.

    Because the ones that will be left will be the analogous woodworkers -- the ones who understood how to use the tool properly.

  3. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Pronounced - "Twat - r"

  4. So funny I forgot to laugh. No, actually it's rhymes with "tater." Twitter + hater. To pronounce it the other way would require two "t"s.

  5. Anonymous2:48 PM

    KT Iversen (Former Twitter user @Sheporzo) Twitter's only real value is as a type of telephone. Kind of an instamessage to friends and relatives. The feeds are overburdened with annoying useres attempting to be the next Supa RapStar and Telemarketers dressed in little or nothing. And God Forbid you offend the Right Wing Christian Zealots running the show: then you get the Twitter Gestapo to Censor you. It's simple enough to deactivate the account, I tried it; I did not like it! But they (Twitter) are not on the cutting edge they feel they are on; rather they are just the next big Failed Experiment! In other words: If I were an investor, and they were offering shares in their company I would only take them if they were free. Can you say Nortel!

  6. The telephone analogy is a good one. I agree that a lot of the groups you list add to the general noise on Twitter, but since I don't follow any of them, I don't really see it. I frequently pare down the number of people/businesses I follow, and that's kept my feed both timely and relevant to me. I think it has too many users to be considered a failed experiment, but I think it might remain one of those more specialized tools that only a certain part of the population will use.