Why people still don’t get Twitter

Posted on 19/10/2010


Believe it or not, people still don’t get Twitter. People like me.

Sure, I like spending time on social networks, and I’m amazed at how they’re rapidly changing socializing and information sharing. In terms of functionality, how to use them and who else does it well, I could be somewhere in the top 30% of people who understand these (I don’t believe in social media “experts”).

Yet Twitter seems the most confusing of the 60 or so Social Networks I’ve come across.  I’ve narrowed it down to 4 key reasons:

1. WTF?

Brevity and short snippets of text are never going to be universal online. Yes, we all know that we “scan” rather than read web pages , but it’s harder to writer soundbites than paragraphs. Try to force us to keep messages simple and most people will scamper back to their email. That’s why the first hurdle of Twitter is overcoming its simplicity. It can’t compete with email and it’s not direct like instant messaging, so Twitter seems superfluous.

This conciseness affects how you use it. We’re not all @serafinowicz so witty one-liners are probably out of the question. The alternative is to tweet a series of “me” statements, concerning your mood, the weather, and anything else people don’t really want to. Over time (see infographic) this *can* evolve into sharing links and even holding conversations, but this is pretty tough to get the hang of for newbies. Hence the huge amount of “I’m eating…” messages trending at any moment.

2. As unintuitive as it gets

There’s also the issue of learning a new posting (a.k.a. twittering) system, something the Twitter developers made up and renamed, just to make things… complicated.

Instead of using straightforward commands like “post”, you “tweet”. Instead of “add as a Friend” you “follow”. These have added to its charm, but from a user experience point of view, they’re not very helpful. There’s also a range of commands entered into the message like:

@username to direct messages publicly to someone
RT@username to give someone else a shout out
Cc @username to copy someone else into a message you’re tweeting

These commands aren’t intensely complicated, but they are another thing to learn. Which is why the second Twitter hurdle is learning what everything’s called and how to use  it (again).

3. ADHD = good or bad?

I’m stuck in the link sharing phase of Twitter either because: I’ve not enough/ too much attention span.

My job entails spending all day online so I’ve really no excuse when it comes to Twitter activity. Except it does take a lot of time (when I should otherwise be working) to follow conversations, respond to tweets and post replies to them. Either I’m too good at concentrating on work, or I’m too easily distracted from Twitter.

Clearly I lack the commitment to keep on top of the latest trending topics and weigh in with my opinion. It’s all the follow-up I miss, and as soon as I’m aware of a conversation, it has moved on. I guess the lesson here is to check little and often.

4. Following you everywhere

Forget attention span; no one would have bothered with Twitter were it not for the first iPhone. Mobile internet is what really makes the difference to Twitter, and maintains it as a live instant information source. No iPhone would have meant Stephen Fry had nothing to do, back in February 2009, when he was stuck in a lift.

Considering the iPhone was released in January 2007, there’s a marked increase from that date on in Twitter users (See below. This doesn’t prove a relationship, but I think this is worth investigating..) Being able to Tweet on the move helps you stay connected and posting.

There’s definitely something about Twitter. It’s the odd one out: YouTube does video, LinkedIn careers, Flickr does photos and Facebook does, well… everything. Set against these it just doesn’t fall into any pre-established role.

Which is why it’s so dynamic. It’s not only a global chat room, friend monitoring, trend monitoring, games platform, but it allows you to share information. This could be intelligible information like words, or code: programming commands, html, action-script.

Although this is not a guide to Twitter, I’ve thoughtfully included a couple of links to help anyone else still struggling with Twitter:

Posted in: Digital, Social media