For ages I’d rolled my eyes with arrogant disdain at the “Twitter fad” and thought “Who has time for that?” since I was convinced that people were simply whinging and rambling and ranting about what they ate for breakfast. I’d created an account ages ago and occasionally used the search functionality to gauge reactions/feedback on portfolio companies, investments and other trends or “real-time” events, but I didn’t see any point in actually tweeting or participating.
My view was that Twitter was full of so much random noise, mostly utter crap, so why should I contribute to it? I also felt it was an incestuous circle of people tweeting things back and forth with their friends and existing contacts. And I certainly didn’t care about what those people were eating for breakfast, what sunrises they were seeing, dreams they’d had the night before, when they were going to bed, on and on and on (you can’t imagine how many things I really didn’t care about).
But then I decided to give it a try.
I decided I would not tweet “random crap” (mostly) and even committed not to tweet song lyrics (which is seriously such a temptation!) and I’ve slowly started to realise a few things. Thought it would be worth noting them down before I become a complete convert (god help me) and forget what it was that I used to resist. Here’s what I’ve realised and started to appreciate:
1. It’s what you make of it. Like anything else (and certainly any other communication medium), it is entirely what you make of it. If you want to follow what people are eating for breakfast and offer them the same in return, you can do only that. If you want to see what news items people are consuming, you can do that. If you want to find new music, bands or follow gigs, you can do that too.
For me I use it to ping/draw attention to news items/blog posts that I like and feel are worth other people seeing [namely entrepreneurs and others in the tech community]. So my modus operandi is simply to “pass things along” or spread the word. I know none of my tweets have been so earth shattering that they are “must reads” and that no one would really be missing out if they happened not to see a tweet of mine, but all the same, I’d like to think at least occasionally 1 or 2 people thought “interesting!” in response, and that’s good enough for me.
In this vein, I’ve also realised that Twitter has replaced a bit of what I used to do with IM/Skype chat. Much of my Skype chat activity is actually pinging URLs/stories or snippets to friends on my contact list in order to gauge their reactions or impressions — and converse. Now I can “broadcast” that with one tweet … although to have a fulfilling conversation and get their honest reactions I do still send a ping on Skype chat.
2. Twitter is valuable and useful [for now] because it’s still relatively small. While this might be debated, Twitter is still in its early stages (relative to other more established modes of communication such as email, Facebook messages, blogs, etc) Even though some would argue that it’s already gained critical mass with celebs involved and appearances on Oprah, I would still point to how relatively speaking it’s a self-selecting twitterverse (recently highlighted in the Prospect magazine poll) and that as a result most active participants feel an inherent “connection” or familiarity with others on Twitter — simply because they’re there (as liberally-minded early adopters, somewhat engaged in social media, follow the same person, or what have you). A result of this is that it’s still manageable to filter out noise, spam and bots. Facebook is past this point, and obviously so is email. Twitter will eventually fall to the same “critical mass” and noise,… and will diminish in value as a result.
3. The ecosystem is more valuable than Twitter itself. As a result of the point above, Twitter (as an ecosystem or “protocol”) is going to need third party apps, utilities and methods to filter out the spam and noise. I’d tweeted last week arguing that the ecosystem is actually quite vulnerable to Twitter itself, but even so at some level there will need to be applications and utilities that are necessary to manage Twitter, clean it, mine it and of course monetise it. These will have more economic value in my mind than Twitter itself — which may find itself relegated as a protocol or simple a medium. Think email (as a medium), web pages, Mosaic/IE/Firefox or even blogs. Those are not economically valuable in and of themselves — It’s what they enable, create or how they are manifested in other applications and extensions.
4. Twitter is the best discovery platform available today. I was wrong (ahem) for thinking that the twitterverse was completely incestuous and full of people simply following one another and tweeting back and forth the same articles from CNN or BBC News (i.e., sources that everyone reads anyway). I have witnessed now that all you need is 1 out of 10 people (following someone or something) to be outside of a “tight circle” — for example in the art community versus the tech/startup community — and you can immediately access their other networks, sets of friends/followers and … a whole new world or a different “circle”. Discovery through fewer and fewer degrees of separation (courtesy of Twitter) has been phenomenal for me.
5. Twitter is the first communication platform (protocol) that requires no authentication. This is a difficult for me to put into words, but possibly the most significant conclusion I’ve drawn. (Sometimes I’m a bit slow!) Simply put: I can ping anyone I want to. I just need to find their handle/Twitter username and send a message, for example to @eileenshero — How easy is that? And because of point #2 above, even if a message or a DM merely generates an email to their email/inbox or SMS on their phone, chances are (for now) @eileenshero is prioritising Twitter communication over email these days, so they’ll quite likely get back to me!
To write or send someone a letter, you need their postal address. To ring them up, you need their phone number. In the days of landlines and everyone-being-listed you might have been able to find this in the phone book, but in these days of mobile phones, where’s the mobile-phone-directory? Since it doesn’t exist, you need them to give you their mobile phone number. To send them an email, you need them (or someone else) to give you their email address. All of these require some level of authentication or in other words the intended recipient granting you in/direct permission to make contact. While sometimes you can send a Facebook message to a “non-friend”, this is only if the user hasn’t changed their privacy/contact settings to prevent that. Twitter is *always* an open platform. If you find the person you’re looking for (and the search works reasonably enough), you can contact them — without their expressed prior consent. (I’ll go into the ramifications for online stalking in a later post.)
So as a result of these points, initial inspiration from @salimmitha, @renate and @alexkelleher and after only 1 month 2 days and 145 tweets I’m going to stick with it [for now]. But I do believe the value is fleeting … Facebook was “useful” and valuable for me for less than 2 years (and now has too much noise for me to even bother with), how long before Twitter gets to the same point and before the next “communication medium” or “discovery platform” comes along?