Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is the value of Twitter? A discussion.

Below is an extremely lengthy discussion that took place on Facebook, among three Twitterers: one enthusiastic (@missjennyjenny), one underwhelmed (@pattyfab), and one somewhere in between (@sorel -- hi, me!).

Although long, it is worth reading if any of the following thoughts ever cross your mind:

* "Where is Facebook going and how does it relate to Twitter? (No answers here -- just speculation.)"
* "Why Tweet? It sounds like one hand clapping! Facebook gives better conversations."
* "Is Twitter just feeding the short-attention superficial span navel-gazing culture?"
* "I get all my news from Twitter searches!" Or, equally, "Search Twitter? Why in the world?"

And more. And if you do manage to read the whole thing, share thoughts, please!

You can also find a similar discussion on @missjennyjenny's blog.

(Note: bold is mine for emphasis of key points.)

FACEBOOK STATUS: Sorel is waiting for the Facebook changes backlash to explode like it always does. 9:32am

@sorel at 9:34am March 10
Personally, I like the changes, and am looking forward to the homepage changes too. But it is going to take some time for people to adjust. These changes are BIG, and, I think, necessary.

@pattyfab at 9:45am March 10
The only changes I see so far are the tabs on the home page, which I like too (altho I wish you could customize them even further).

But yeah, inevitably whenever there is change - even for the better - people will gripe. I heard these changes are to bring FB more in line with Bebo and allow you to have one password that links Twitter, Flickr, all the others.

@sorel at 9:47am March 10
The big changes are to fan pages (so far). what you should be seeing is fan pages showing up in your newsfeed, as if they were your friends. the main 2 profiles I am seeing right now are Facebook and NY Times.

@sorel at 9:48am March 10
Check out any fan page, and you will see that it looks like a personal profile page. (They are now called Public Profiles.)

@pattyfab at 9:48am March 10
Ah. I don't have a lot of fan pages.

@sorel at 9:52am March 10
Actually you have over 50! :) But I think they are mostly ones that won't do a lot of talking.

Julie at 9:54am March 10
so that's why Barack Obama's status keeps showing up!

@sorel at 9:55am March 10

@sorel at 9:58am March 10
On Twitter, people are used to seeing brands & organizations in their stream -- because they chose to put them there. This makes FB feel more like Twitter, but it will be a big adjustment for people. It looks like they are putting the tools in place to make it manageable, but it is still a big change. (Can you tell I think about this a lot?)

@pattyfab at 10:03am March 10
Someone has to!

I am still not sold on Twitter. Not one bit. But people love it.

@sorel at 10:04am March 10
I love searching it, but don't feel much need to tweet myself. It has been good for California Academy of Sciences, however. (For which I am the official Twitterer.)

@pattyfab at 10:06am March 10
I have basically stopped tweeting and haven't really messed around with search. To me it's the apogee of the short attention span. 140 characters is no room for content, it's just sound bites and headlines, and no opportunity for meaningful dialogue. If FB can capture what is best about Twitter and avoid the extreme shallowness, then that's great.

@sorel at 10:08am March 10

For the Academy, it is an awesome way to listen in on public conversation. And even provide some customer service. Beyond that? I pull a lot of links out and find some interesting content. So not the tweets themselves, but what they point to.

What is better here is that other people are seeing this conversation and can easily contribute.

@pattyfab at 10:10am March 10
The links part of Twitter is good, I've found some cool stuff there. The "my headcold has now migrated into my sinuses" stuff is what I can live without. Like anything else it's how people use it.

@countessnina at 10:33am March 10
I find myself immediately asking for "less about". I love the NY Times, but don't want to see it all day in my news feed. And some others too. If the less about works, then I'm happy.

@missjennyjenny at 11:38am March 10
just my 2 cents re:twitter.. what i like is that it is an extended network of people/things that i do not necessarily have (or want) on FB. Who/what i follow on twitter is different than my FB network of friends, and has become indispensable in it's own way. There is some overlap, but I honestly need both. Plus, my FB behavior is totally different than my twitter behavior. I have twitter hooked up to my FB status but that is more of a side benefit.. not the core use. This is all so interesting!

@sorel at 2:56pm March 10
What if you could segment your Facebook feed? Could it then fill the role that Twitter does? Just curious!

@missjennyjenny at 3:20pm March 10
I'm may not quite understand your question (so do set me straight if you need to) but I think the issue comes down to a core behavior difference between the two: fb = approved/known/safe network of friends/family/collegues/groups/etc. accessed through a variety of media that can be archived independent of any time line... where twitter allows access to a running stream of text content outside any self controlled/approved network. They seem very different to me, not sure how to combine. FB is a closed system, like AOL? Twitter is open like the internet or a tool like a browser? Hmm, not totally sure of the right metaphor. Does that make any sense? ;)

@sorel at 3:25pm March 10
One of the things facebook seems to be looking at is giving people the option to make some content fully public. In other words, anyone at all can see it: Essentially creating another twitter stream, but possibly richer since it might include images/videos/etc.

So what if that were possible, and yet by switching channels on your home page, you could still have your private facebook experience too?

I could be wrong, but I think this is where it is headed.

@sorel at 3:26pm March 10
it would of course take some seriously easy-to-use privacy controls.

@missjennyjenny at 4:14pm March 10
Yes, that could be what's ahead. Would be huge for FB to move the momentum of Twitter onto FB. They weren't able to buy them, so build it.

@pattyfab at 7:59pm March 10
I guess I just see Twitter as completely superficial, not having much content at all. I hadn't considered the private/public paradigm. There ARE privacy controls on Twitter. I don't link my stati (plural of status??). So for me they are separate too but more as in FB I like and participate in, Twitter I check in once or twice a day and scratch my head and wonder where's the beef.

@missjennyjenny at 8:03pm March 10
i've heard that from many people.. not sure why some people love it and others don't. something i'm sure both fb and twitter are trying to figure out. have you spent any time using twitter search summize, especially during an event?

@pattyfab at 8:09pm March 10
I keep hearing the search feature is good but I can't really imagine what I would search for in 140 character sound bites.

What really turned me off Twitter recently was one friend who was at some sort of "virtual" conference and tweeted like every 10 minutes with hash tags and the like, totally filling up my feed, and I thought, honestly, don't you have anything better to do? Maybe he didn't.

When friends ask me why I'm on FB and what I get out of it, I have no problem coming up with reasons. The same question of Twitter and I really have no answer except that I feel like I *should* or I'm missing out. I certainly have nothing of interest or import to contribute to the twitterverse.

@sorel at 8:09pm March 10
That's the part I love about it. As @calacademy, I run TweetDeck, with like 10 panels. 3 or 4 are various searches for academy keywords, one is dedicated to other institutions we follow, and one is mostly social media folks we follow. That's when I start to find interesting things. And the signal to noise ratio is pretty high given the number of professionals I follow -- not TOO many posts about lunch.

@sorel at 8:16pm March 10
go to and type in something that interests you, say "book design" -- you might find resources or who knows what. Also, on the side of the page, you will see "trending topics" -- that tells you what is hot right this minute. (Right now, American Idol and SXSW.)

@pattyfab at 8:23pm March 10
Well I guess one of the problems is I don't see a "search" function anywhere on the page. Or am I retarded?

@missjennyjenny at 8:29pm March 10
ack, no.. don't be hard on yourself ;) A lot of this is not entirely user friendly (yet). Go to this link, I did a search for "book design"... kind of like a google keyword search but just a search of all the tweets that contain "book design", then scroll through and see if anything looks interesting.. follow links, read about people, see their websites listed in their bios.. just go with the flow! see you in an hour!

@pattyfab at 8:33pm March 10
An hour? Sorry... I'm just missing something.

@pattyfab at 8:34pm March 10
It's frustrating because I was one of the early adopters, among my crowd, of Twitter, and have lost interest just as it gains real momentum. I don't think I ever really got it tho. All power to the rest of y'all.

@sorel at 9:12am March 11
I am surprised that even the search leaves you cold. Of course it is most interesting when you are looking for something that you actually need to find information about.

@pattyfab at 10:50am March 11
I didn't find any info on "book design" by looking at that link. A lot of noise but no signal. Just a bunch of @replies and stuff. I guess my fundamental issue is that - other than posting links, which can be useful - I don't see a lot of room for actual content in 140 characters. I can see the value, say, for a type foundry which can announce a new release. But for someone like me who has nothing to promote particularly, it feels like spitting in the ocean.

Sorry to sound like a curmudgeon, but I did give it the college try. I'm not one of those cranky folks who dismisses social networking out of hand without even checking it out (like a lot of our mutual friends...).

@pattyfab at 11:00am March 11
@twecipe looks cool tho.

@sorel at 11:07am March 11
here, try one more search:

i found a bunch of possibly interesting typography links from one quick search. You are right that there is a lot of noise, no question. It's best use is for timely things (like the election, or the release of a new iPod). You also have to have a need or desire to know what people are chattering about, and that may not apply to you! :)

haven't twied twecipe yet! need to.

@pattyfab at 11:12am March 11
You're sweet. And not the only person trying to convince me to like Twitter.

As regards Typography, I already frequent a typography site and follow a lot of foundries on Twitter. I still can't get past the "I'm working on my typography final paper" in the search.

I had a technical question and posted it on both twitter and FB. Twitter - nada. Facebook I got several ways to solve it. Part of that might be the relative sizes of my networks. But... you follow too much on twitter and they start dropping off the home page b4 you even get to read them.

@sorel at 11:22am March 11
But did you see the tshirt that said "YO, THAT KERN IS TIGHT!"

Truth is, I use the search function professionally for the most part. The best way to listen in on the crowd.

I agree with you in many ways about actually using Twitter, and find it interesting that @missjennyjenny gets such value from it day-to-day! I am trying to understand that more. (Thanks @missjennyjenny for explaining!)

@pattyfab at 11:26am March 11
Yes, thanks @missjennyjenny. And I understand, I found myself defending FB to a tableful of nonbelievers last night.

Twitter manages to tap into two zeitgeists right now, both of which I find troubling. One is the short attention span and the other is oversharing. I'd like to see it move more into the professional sphere but maybe I just need to limit who I follow.

@pattyfab at 11:27am March 11
But for example, David Pogue. I thought "now there's the kind of tweet I will want to read" but no... his tweets are fairly insipid.

@sorel at 11:31am March 11
ah yes, the nonbelievers. They will catch up someday. I firmly believe social networking will become a fundamental aspect of the internet. Eventually anyway.

@sorel at 11:32am March 11
and agreed about the oversharing short attention span problem.

@missjennyjenny at 12:20pm March 11
You need to follow people who offer interesting/valuable tweets according to what *you* feel is interesting/valuable. Whether that turns out to be something insipid or not is up to you. Whether that ends up being people you know or not depends on whether people you know are interesting *on twitter*. Don't follow someone if you don't like what they are tweeting, simple as that. Build a quality follow list - follow someone for 10 min, or not. whatever. If you can't find anyone interesting then you're not really looking. If you don't want to spend the time to *look*, then don't. Attract *interesting* people by adding value to the community by offering *interesting* tweets for people to find *you*. Give a reason for someone to follow you. No one told me how to do this, it all feels natural to me. Insipid content, oversharing, and short attention spans are not unique to twitter or facebook...

@missjennyjenny at 12:21pm March 11
And just because something is communicated in X number of characters does not in itself dictate value.

@missjennyjenny at 12:24pm March 11
i don't even know why i'm defending all this. i'm not trying to change anyone's mind, you like what you like or not. i guess it's just so obvious to me that i'm surprised i have to explain it.

@pattyfab at 12:25pm March 11
And that's funny because it isn't obvious to me. Different strokes I guess. I'm just not convinced - yet - that Twitter rewards that sort of investment.

@missjennyjenny at 12:36pm March 11
exactly. twitter has rewarded my investment, easily, from the start. i guess it's just not for you if you've given it a try and haven't found any value, and don't want to invest any more time in it because you are certain it's not worth the time (and you are entitled to feel that way). that seems all really clear. what is not clear is why you care? does it bother you that other people do find value in it when you don't? should it bother me that you don't find value in it?

@missjennyjenny at 12:36pm March 11
ok, and now i have to work!!

@pattyfab at 12:47pm March 11
It bothers me because I feel like I'm missing something I guess.

@missjennyjenny at 12:56pm March 11
it doesn't bother me that i'm missing out on skiing in fresh powder.. i don't like skiing.

@pattyfab at 1:15pm March 11
LOL. Skiing I get! But I'm happy not to scuba dive.

As an independent designer I think it's important that I be plugged in, at least to some extent. Since I don't have an office water cooler to hang around. Which is why I keep trying to engage with Twitter.

@sorel at 1:19pm March 11
There is actually a blog post out there about how Twitter is the water cooler of the work-at-home set. Not for me, yet, either.

@missjennyjenny at 1:24pm March 11
are either of you interested in a couple follow suggestions? or are you done? i'm not even sure what interests me would interest you.. but i'm happy to share.

@pattyfab at 1:29pm March 11
Share away. I'm totally interested. I'll follow you, Jenny!

@sorel at 1:42pm March 11
btw, you are both designers, if that helps! And I'm always willing to check out suggestions.

@missjennyjenny at 1:59pm March 11
well, i hope i'm not too insipid for you. I do tweet about my dog sometimes. you've been warned ;)

here are some that I find consistently good, although some do have a regional slant - not sure where you are located Patricia:
inspiring (i contribute here)

@sorel at 2:02pm March 11
Also on Fridays, there is a #followfriday meme. You can use the search page to see who people are recommending to follow. Can be a bit broad, however. Back to that needle in the haystack problem.

@pattyfab at 8:16pm March 11
I had dinner with my brother tonight who works in the technosphere and asked him what his co-workers think of Twitter. He said they are pretty divided on it, some are totally hooked and think it's great and some aren't sold on it at all.

I guess I should check out Tweetdeck, isn't that the way to organize it?

@pattyfab at 8:17pm March 11
And thanks for the follow suggestions @missjennyjenny!

@sorel at 8:18pm March 11
It does help a lot especially if you follow a lot of people. You can have panels for searches or for groups of people that you set up.

@pattyfab at 8:42pm March 11
But... what is tweetdeck and where do I find it?

@sorel at 8:49pm March 11 :)

@sorel at 8:50pm March 11
it might be more than you need right now, but I kind of love it.

@missjennyjenny at 11:21pm March 11
Sorel, here's a screen shot of the new FB homepage. Are they rolling it out to certain users first? That seems to ring a bell for me, something I saw a while back about opting in as an early user or what that something else?

@missjennyjenny at 11:38pm March 11
Patricia, if you set your twitter feed as private than no body other than who you've approved can see any of your tweets (obviously). Totally fine if you want to be private, but realize it prohibits you from any organic exposure. This also means your tweets won't show up in any search results and the general community won't know you exist – and isn't the general community who you may want to get to know and vice versa? You can still block individual accounts if someone is offensive/spammy. If you tweet out for advice "any one know of a good bank in vancouver" then *only* the people you've approved can see that and reply. The whole beauty to me is I may not know the person who has the advice I'm seeking – but my tweet can be found by someone who does. Also, if I am following someone, they may be more likely to follow me back if they can see my profile & my other tweets – sort of see if i'm interesting, or not.

@sorel at 6:27am March 12
There was a notice yesterday that they are rolling out the new home page as of last night. Everyone should have it within the next few days. I have already seen the "don't change Facebook" responses!

@pattyfab at 7:15am March 12
There will always be grumblers about the new Facebook no matter how good or bad it is. People hate change. I'll reserve judgment until I've lived with it. I thought I wouldn't like the last change but I can barely remember the original design now.

@missjennyjenny - yeah I guess I have privacy concerns. Is that unfounded? I keep my FB page locked up pretty tight too.

@missjennyjenny at 9:24am March 12
P - if you have privacy concerns, then by all means you need to be safe. I take the stance that I only tweet content that I feel comfortable being public. I don't have that many followers - so I can look at each one as they follow me to decide if I want to block them or not. I have blocked several followers... ones that only follow women or are clearly spam. I don't tweet my phone number or address or "i'm at starbucks on 4th & Main" – while Shaq does (that's his deal). Twitter, my blog, LinkedIn and my website are public.. I have enabled some privacy settings on specific content on FB and flickr because I behave more personal in those environments (mostly personal photos - or cc in regards to Flickr).

@pattyfab at 10:11am March 12
Now I see you are blocking spammers. That seems to be a good reason to keep the privacy controls on...

But I do see your point. If I don't fully commit to the Twitterverse, then I will probably never truly reap its rewards. A lot of things are like that.

@sorel at 10:18am March 12
And you still have control over the privacy. I get an email every time someone follows me, so it is easy to check them and block immediately if I want. For @calacademy which has 900+ followers, I wouldn't bother. For me, it's an easy option.

Twitter is kind of like talking to people in a public place (bar, restaurant, park, etc.). You never know who might overhear you. So just know that and go with it.

@pattyfab at 11:10am March 12
I just read a tweet from a friend: "Involved in an intense twitter debate with mostly non-twitters (i.e., major skeptics) on my friend's facebook wall."

Be interesting to read what they're saying.

@sorel at 11:32am March 12
indeed! see now if these convos were public like Twitter, we could. :)

@missjennyjenny at 11:41am March 12
P - blocking *individual* spammers/creeps one at a time is not the same as locking down your entire account. In regards to understanding tweetdeck or twitter search or learning about any twitter behavior/tool/functionality/etc is in itself *exploratory*. If someone said to me, try "twitter blah" and I didn't know what it was, i'd google it & twitter search for it, take the initiative on my own to flail around & figure it out, as that is the *nature* of it. Twitter didn't start out with rules or guidelines or a how to.. people are deciding for themselves how they use it and are building tools themselves to add to it. I wouldn't find out about half this stuff unless I clicked on those gray links below each tweet that list what twitter tool was used. In regards to 140 char, think of it as hooks to content. Google results are brief, why do you want more than 140? Is 300 enough? 1000? Re: tuning out the noise applies to everything. Why apply that rule just to twitter?

@missjennyjenny at 11:43am March 12
by the way: I've been asked to share this conversation on my blog. Any objections? I'd be happy to remove your names. Just seems like this would be helpful for others to see.. sort of like P's other comment about this conversation happening on another wall (I'm sure it's happening all over right now).

@pattyfab at 11:43am March 12
if it were twitter it wouldn't be a real conversation tho.

@missjennyjenny at 11:48am March 12
P - that's were I must point out that you are wrong. On Facebook *no one* else can see this other than @sorel's network (maybe ours too, I'm not sure since this is on her status thread - but regardless it's finite). On twitter I can link to anything.. any conversatation, any url, any link. Just not one on FB because it is *closed*. For the internet as a whole, this conversation doesn't exist.

@pattyfab at 11:49am March 12
I guess I have so far failed to see what I call "conversation" happening on Twitter. That may be a function of my not using it properly. But I think it's also a function of the interface and the limited character count.

@sorel at 11:52am March 12
not on twitter. but facebook behaving like twitter? (open to public, real-time) now that's perhaps another story.

@pattyfab at 11:52am March 12
The rule doesn't apply only to Twitter (noise). But I feel, as I said earlier, that the absence of anything OTHER than the 140-character sound-bite, encourages a superficiality that is maybe what I call noise.

Maybe tweetdeck or tweetree will help me organize my threads and group my follows and make some sense of it in order to find some actual content. I'm not averse to it, I just have not found it rewarding in the way that this conversation is.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to chime in just because the part of your conversation on search usefulness on Twitter gave me an idea and I tested it. So here goes:

    1. Go to Google Adwords' Keyword Tool.
    2. Have it search your website and/or put in your own descriptive word or phrase, such as "book design".
    3. Use the terms it generates as fodder for searches on Twitter via Tweetdeck.

    So far, it's interesting. I put in "book design" and got tons of possibilities. You'd have to select the ones that seem most productive to you. I tried "bookcover" and got some interesting results. For example, a published author who's sharing his latest bookcover design in its final stages.

    Try it! Maybe you'll like it.