[Warning: this post will mean nothing to you if you don't use Twitter or - at least - are familiar with Facebook's news feed. If you don't fall into this camp, this will be much more interesting than what follows. And even if you do fall into that camp, you might want to think about just following that link anyway.]
Journalism blogger extraordinaire Paul Bradshow quotes me being, I’ll admit, a bit of a Twitter twat on his Online Journalism today. Paul was live-Twittering a conference last week. I, and a few others, unsubscribed from his normally very interesting feed because his updates were overwhelming our streams. We couldn’t see what any of our other friends were up to because of his volley of updates.
Maybe I was having a bad day. Maybe it was all just a bit much. But Paul’s rapid-fire flow of Tweets displaced those from all my other contacts that day, and I found myself needing to get out straight away. I’m glad Paul’s written about the reaction he saw, because what happened there – and the mixed reaction to it – tells us something about how people like to use this emerging form of communication.
My problem with it was caused by two things – my expectations of the medium, and the medium’s limitations.
My expectations: I like to use Twitter to keep up with friends and acquaintances. They tell me what they’re up to, or what they’ve just seen, or offer up a link. Occasionally – although I’m a little uncomfortable doing it, as I don’t think Twitter is a conversational space – I’ll have brief one-to-one, but public, exchanges with people. But, generally, this is about short, one-off messages to a group.
The medium’s limitations: it is very easy to overwhelm. Twitter doesn’t thread and, although conventional spam is unlikely, it’s easy for people to spam their friends if they go off on one. Sometimes, that’s entertaining – someone will be at an interesting place, or talking to someone cool, or just madly frustrated by something, and you want lots of updates. Sometimes it’s entertaining for all the wrong reasons – I follow the Tweets of someone someone I’ve never met, who writes the most infuriating things about the business we’re both in. Somehow, I can’t let go.
But I digress.
All this means for me is this:
First, Twitter’s no good for live (micro)blogging. It’s hard to convey a sense of what’s happening at an event in only 160 characters.
Second, Twitter’s a personal medium, which means I want to know what you think about events – not just have those events described to me, but that 160 limit stops you doing that.
Third, Twitter’s a broadcast channel. Except when you go into conversation with another user – and I’m not convinced Twitter’s good even for that – it’s a way of saying brief things to lots of people. And people, confronted with a broadcast channel that’s blasting out lots of stuff they’re not interested in, will change channel.
Don’t get me wrong. I love liveblogging – my colleagues on Guardian Sport pretty much invented it with their minute-by-minute reports, which meld commentary with analysis, wit and user interaction. We now have similar all over the site, in lots of different subject areas.
I just don’t think Twitter’s a particularly good place to do it.