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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (4/21/09) 10:59am - ... wherein Peter finds twitter useful.

Twitter is a "micro-blogging service."  It's like a blog, except your posts are 140 characters or less.  (My account is here.)  I've been using it for a year or so, and some folks have been curious as to why I bother using it.



The general idea of twitter has always made a lot of sense to me.  Some fifteen years ago I wanted to sort out some sort of "what Peter is up to" online status message.  I wanted/needed this tool long before it existed.

I've been surprised to discover that a lot of people really hate twitter.  And it's not just the specific website that bugs people:  the very idea of updating an online status message rubs a lot of people the wrong way.  Most criticisms are along the lines of "Why the hell do I want to know the minutiae of your life?" and also "Why the hell would anyone want to know the minutiae of my life?"[1]  (See Penny Arcade and SuperNews.)  Apparently it speaks to some larger point about the alienation and self-absorbed navel-gazing associated with Web 2.0.

A subset of the twitter-haters have been genuinely curious as to what I get out of using twitter.  I can only say that pretty much any form of online communication is good for me.  If I had to get by on spoken conversation, I'd probably go bonkers:  I don't get out much; when I do, I don't talk much; when I talk, my mind goes entirely blank when people ask me what I've been up to.  I try my best, but my brain just doesn't handle the talking thing very goodishly.  (The pre-Internet part of my life was pretty damn isolated.)

So I've used online crutches whenever possible:  first email, then a blog, then twitter.  Suddenly I can maintain social networks that I couldn't maintain on my own.  Of course, if you're of a mind that talking face-to-face is real communication and everything else is a sham, then you can dispute that claim -- but for me, it's sort of the other way around, so all text communication is a boon.

In more practical terms, I mainly use twitter for three things:
  1. Passing along jokes or links.
  2. Venting about some sort of irritation.[2]
  3. Asking questions of the hive-mind.[3]
I also like its @reply feature, which lets people use twitter to have conversations back and forth -- but unlike email, these conversations are 'in public' and friends can throw their two cents in whenever they feel like it.


Of course, twitter isn't the only tool out there for online status.  Facebook, for example, is looking more twitter-like with every revision.  It has a "facebook status" feature that's almost a carbon copy of twitter, and I've installed a facebook app that automatically copies my twitter updates over to my facebook status.

So I suppose the next question is, "Why bother using twitter instead of just updating your facebook status?"  Here are my reasons for doing so:

  1. Lots of my friends don't have facebook accounts.
    • Among those who do have facebook accounts, lots of them don't actually use the accounts.
  2. With twitter, I can make backups.
    • Facebook has crappy search capabilities, and it's been such a bad citizen w/r/t privacy that I wouldn't put it past them to make old status updates "disappear" after some span of time.  With twitter, I can use tweetake to pull down a CSV file of my 5,000 or so tweets (and all the replies as well), which I can then search through or back up.
  3. Updating twitter is more convenient than updating facebook.
    • The facebook web page is big, clunky, and crudded up with advertising.  The twitter page loads faster, and desktop twitter applications like twhirl or tweetie mean that I don't have to fuss with a browser at all.
  4. I like having my status updates visible to a wider array of people.  Sometimes I get useful and interesting @replies on twitter from random people I don't know.  That doesn't (perhaps can't?) happen on facebook.
  5. People are finding creative uses for twitter -- for example, storyspine or paulfeig's little competitions -- that I'm just not seeing on facebook.  It's fun to be a part of that.
  6. There are also a number of celebrities on twitter who are fun to follow.
    • I follow a bunch of TV critics there, for example.
    • Granted, you don't have to actually use twitter for this -- you can just add the RSS feeds to Google Reader or something.
So that's why I use twitter.  YMMV.

____________
[1] Oddly, this is how I feel about a lot of spoken conversation, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

[2] This seems particularly good for my mental well-being -- see also the night I got stuck in the Houston airport for six hours.

[3] I don't put up many posts like that, but when I do, it can be pretty damn convenient.

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[User Picture]
From:la_directora
Date:Tuesday (4/21/09) 10:11am
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You know what I don't get about the whole, "Why do I want to know the minutiae of your life?" argument against Twitter? The fact that the most logical and reasonable answer is, "If you don't want to know, then by all means don't read it." I have never understood why it is my responsibility to only put information online that meets the approval of someone else. I don't EXPECT an audience for any of what I post. I do it for my own self-amusement. When it does reach an audience and create a back-and-forth of some kind, I am pleased. But if it doesn't, I'm not going to go into a corner and mope.

And while I fall FAR to the other end of the introverted/extraverted spectrum that you do, and therefore have a higher apprciation of face-to-face communication :), what I appreciate about things like Twitter and Facebook is the ability to feel like I get that face-to-face communication with people from whom I have become geographically distant. I love what the Internet has done in terms of keeping me in touch with a vast array of friends from various corners of my life.
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From:hangingfire
Date:Tuesday (4/21/09) 11:15am
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I also like Twitter as a people-organizing tool; it's an extremely handy way of marshalling groups. Of course, it assumes Twitter-availability of the people you're trying to organize, but once that critical mass has been achieved, it can be exceptionally handy that way.
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From:wanderlust_atx
Date:Tuesday (4/21/09) 11:46am
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Funny, I've actually been a little disgruntled by the whole people-organizing via social networks thing (at least in regard to getting people out and about together).

As it is, I've been burned a few times by the "hey we're all going here" twitters because on the average day, I don't check twitter more than once or twice. So by the time I see that X, Y, and Z are meeting up, the meetup has long occurred and I am bummed that I missed it. Whereas, had someone sent me a text (or even an email) the chances are far greater that I would see it. /pityparty
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From:hujhax
Date:Tuesday (4/21/09) 12:00pm
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Interesting -- I rarely organize social events, so it's neat to see what kind of Internet tools people favor for that sort of thing....
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