What’s Twitter for exactly?

By Caitlin Kelly

Who's got time for Twitter? Do you?
Who’s got time for Twitter? Do you?

Interesting recent piece by New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton:

Wander the halls of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters and ask random employees in a black T-shirt with a little blue bird and they will give you a different answer, too. I’ve heard people tell me it’s a place for real-time communication, a second screen for television, a live-events vertical, a place for brands to connect with people and a media communications platform.

The conflicting vision about Twitter may be the company’s biggest flaw and may explain why Twitter has failed to grow beyond its 300 million users (compared with Facebook’s 1.4 billion).

It may also explain why the social media platform hasn’t changed much in nearly a decade.

It’s utterly insane that you still need to put a period before a person’s Twitter handle, such as “.@twitter,” if you want everyone to see it. Could you imagine Facebook doing that? Twitter still uses “favorite” instead of the more universal “like.” And Twitter still expects people to use Boolean search commands.

As a user experience, the product is still a drip-drip-drip stream of seemingly random tweets. It feels like a deranged video game, where players are blindfolded and win only if they accidentally come across a good tweet among a mudslide of drivel.
I started using Twitter — extremely reluctantly — about a year ago. I usually tweet five to 15 times a day when I have time, and I probably re-tweet 55 percent of the time, although less than I once did.
I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate feeling like I’m spitting into the wind; as Sree Sreenivasan — who tweets as @sree — and who is the digital officer for the Metropolitan Museum in New York told my blogging students this year: Expect to be ignored!
The CBC's logo -- one of the many news sources I follow on Twitter
The CBC’s logo — one of the many news sources I follow on Twitter
Now that’s encouraging…
What I have come to enjoy most about Twitter are the weekly Twitterchats that create community, allow me to be as playful and/or as serious as I wish — knowing that each tweet is public and permanent — and connect me quickly and easily with some fun and interesting peers.
Every Wednesday night at 8:00 pm ET is #wjchat, which focuses each week on a topic of interest to journalists. Those who show up range from 30-year award-winning veterans like me to radio and digital journos worldwide to young, naive students who mostly lurk.
I also really enjoy #TRLT and #CultureTrav which are focused on travel and which draw a terrific crowd of serious globetrotters. One of them and I ended up tweeting a Rocky Horror Picture Show song at one another the other day — he’s an archeologist in Berlin who studies the Bronze Age.
Of course we’d meet on Twitter! (Where or how else?)
My desk -- Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily
My desk — Twitter allows me to connect globally, quickly and easily

I only follow 900 people. most of whom are, in fact, news organizations from Toronto, New York City, France, Spain, Canada, England.

The first thing I check when I wake up now is Twitter — because that’s where I hear the news first.
Do you use Twitter?
What value do you find from doing so?

21 thoughts on “What’s Twitter for exactly?

      1. themodernidiot

        You can say that about a lot of human discourse. Free speech means you must be discerning, another important skill to master 🙂

      2. themodernidiot

        Yes, thank god. It makes you a valuable source of info; but equally important, a trusted ally and friend. Happy Tweeting!

  1. i’ve not really joined the twitter community, other than as a place to post, and check out occasionally. i suppose it is a bit like haiku, using few words to express bigger ideas –

  2. I really like Twitter for keeping up with the news, so I follow different news organisations and journalists (like yourself!), and I like how you can get real-time updates from events. I’ve joined in a few Twitter chats (mostly travel focused) and really enjoyed them – I’ll have to join in with #wjchat sometime! I use Twitter to share blog posts too, and while it can be a bit like shouting into a void, it’s through Twitter I discovered all the blog competitions I’ve taken part in, so it has been useful 🙂

    1. Interesting…The Twitterchats have also proven, selfishly, the best/fastest/easiest way for me to find new followers. It can take me a week or more to gather as many as I can in one hour-long chat.

      I agree about the learning opp’s as well.

  3. The relationship between twitter and the media fascinates me – how stories break there, how journalists use it, how its one of the few places you can create and establish a genuine counter narrative. With news outlets increasingly in the hands of the very rich, and serving some repressive political agendas around the world, twitter seems to me to be a place to get other people’s stories moving – as with things like #blacklivesmatter and #yesallwomen. Here in the UK the BBC has been reluctant to mention anti-austerity protests, for example. Twitter can be the only way to get this kind of thing heard.

    1. Great point, thanks. I agree, it’s likely the most democratic medium now.

      I also value — until the trolls show up — you can have some interesting conversations about issues that matter to us with people you’d never meet or find otherwise.

  4. I started using Twitter…I don’t remember when exactly. I just remember using it with the hope it would increase my readership. Has it? Probably not. But I still find uses for it. I’ve kept up with friends who aren’t active on Facebook, and once or twice I’ve interacted with celebrities or large corporations who like my blog posts or want to answer a question I’ve tweeted them. It’s been pretty amazing when that happens.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

  6. I don’t like to condemn a thing unless I know it well. That’s why I joined Facebook…then cancelled my subscription (with much difficulty–like Hotel California: you can get in, but you can never leave…almost). I have never tweeted and have no desire to. Just reading your line, “I only follow 900 people” gave me chills. I can barely keep up with my blog (the only social media I engage in and the only one I truly enjoy).

    My fear about Twitter is the same one I had about Facebook: it is an energy/time sucker and most of what is on there is frivolous. I suppose the same could be said about blogging. You have to be a wise and discerning blogger. I found it difficult to be wise or discerning when faced with the the minutia type messages that were coming to me via Facebook. And “Friend” requests from people I didn’t know… UGH!

    I’m the kind of gal who does better at intimate gatherings and eschews cocktail parties. I want meaningful exchanges with people over long stretches of time, not superficial chit chat with easily distracible people. That’s why I exited Facebook and that’s why Twitter has no appeal to me. My energy is limited, so I reserve it for what works for me: volunteering in my new community, being creative, and blogging.

    Perhaps if I was a Twitter aficionado, I could have answered you more succinctly! 😉

  7. I have my Twitter account but I still don’t get how to communicate with people in Twitter. Facebook is convenient catching up on my friend s and family status and I can communicate with people all the way from the world in my blog. So Facebook and my blog are enough for me. There must be nice way using Twitter as well though.

  8. With twitter you have to be in it to win it; you can’t really just dip in and out of it like facebook. There’s a superficiality to it as well which I dislike, but it’s useful for getting on top of what’s going on quickly, and you can interact with a greater range of people which can be useful. Mostly when I hang out there though, I feel like I’m eavesdropping outside the door of an exclusive party I didn’t get invited to. The whole experience is kind of unsatisfying.

    1. I agree.

      I need to find plenty of well-paid work as a full-time freelancer, and so the time I spend on Twitter is not, so far, doing that for me. In the meantime, I enjoy some brief conversations there. I finally did get a lead to an excellent new client, so we’ll see if that pays off. I know some other journalists find all their story sources there. I need to learn how to do that.

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