A review of Twitter (and Daring Fireball, by accident)

September 1st, 2008

The impetus for me to use Twitter in earnest was the Twitterrific app for the iPhone. By making it easy to update my status and to check on others, regular posts just started coming out. I twittered about the olympics, Obama’s speech at the DNC, and other random bits. I watched as others responded to various events; for example, today there are lots of snarky comments about Sarah Palin’s daughter and what it means to McCain’s chances of winning the presidency.

Yet despite my active participation, I don’t see the point of Twitter. Is it deliberatly-short posts of a blog combined with a newsreader for other user’s blog? Is it a status program, to keep others updated on what you’re doing? Because Twitter is both, it is nothing more than a collective mental wank. Let me explain.

Twitter as a microblogging platform.

This makes slightly more sense to me than a status feed. But why would anyone want have a blog severe restrictions on post length? Because not every thought wanting to be written down and shared needs to be meaty and loaded like what’s being attempted here at Budaeli.

And while anyone can set something like this up on any sort of blogging platform, the secret sauce is combining it with a newsreader so that your comments mingle with everyone else’s that you’re following.

If we look at two examples from the blogger John Gruber, his Twitter feed and his link feed from his great website, Daring Fireball, you can see the difference in how the content is presented. I’ve seen twitter posts coincide with link posts in the same vein, and he reveals more of how he’s really thinking through twitter, especially when readers can respond immediately. In fact, his posts about Sarah Palin’s daughter where full of personality, while his one post to his linked list showed only a direct response with only the slightest hint of what he really thinks about the situation. And yet they go hand-in-hand.

Does Gruber need both? Well, that’s the interesting part: Gruber is one of the few professional bloggers. He has carefully crafted a brand around his Daring Fireball that I think includes his Twitter feed. There are regularly-sized posts, short links with concise opinion and description, and a feed where he reels off whatever is on his mind with less of a filter than the other two. Taken together and combined with his valuable insights, you have a great resource for analysis of technology (specifically Apple- and web-related), with a few prescient coverage of other topics.

Twitter as a status feed.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to actively update the a feed telling others what they’re doing. It’s nothing more than how people nowadays will be at a party, but calling their friends to see if there are any better, while degrading the quality of the party that’s already happening around them. Only now you can spray your whereabouts to everyone, including strangers and people who have no right/don’t care what you’re doing.

This doesn’t just go for twitter, but every other service that has the same functionality. How hard is it to just exist in the place we are, without having to suck everyone else in? Even the case for automated status updates is silly, because it’s just that much more information to lose any justification. It’s OK to keep track of news from specific areas, but to keep tabs on the exact goings-on of all your acquaintances is bordering on absurd. This is partly why I have so far succeeded in joining the major social sites, the major exception being Last.fm. If any of my friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else wants to check up on what I’m doing, they can easily call me, email me, semaphore me, leave a comment on Budaeli, whatever. There is lack of a good argument to make it so easy for others to know what you’re doing, and to get regular updates. It’s more complex than that, and I can see the benefits of having a page for people to catch up with you while being 1,000 miles away, but in general it’s a wee bit silly. I mean, whatever happened to the American dream of disappearing from others for awhile?

Will Twitter succeed? Will it ever get past the early-adopter phase?

I don’t know. With any of these micro-blogging systems, a lot depends on reaching a critical mass of users, much like instant messaging platforms. Twitter has a head start at the moment, but they’ve had enough technical issues to allow space for other systems, like Pownce. Also, slightly different systems like Tumblr also exist that provide a slightly different experience and potential for content.

For now, I’ll remain perplexed as to the real power of Twitter. Until I figure it out you can check out my own twitter feed.

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