Monday, 5 January 2009

Is Twitter Twaddle?

In the balmy days of my post-Christmas break I have been flexing my muscles as a new media junkie with Twitter. Some say this is the next Big Thing — but it has recently been excoriated by the Daily Mail, no less, for enabling celebs like Jonathan Ross, John Cleese, Will Carling and Stephen Fry to publish trivia about their lives.

Mind you, British newspapers have been known, themselves, to post trivia about celebrities, along with Celebs’ profound reflections about religion, philosophy, art and science. What seems to have got the Mail’s goat is that the celebs are now posting their own trivia for themselves, rather than having it dug up against them by Mail hacks; who sound understandably ratty about the time they wasted on Twitter digging for juicy dirt, rewarded by mere banalities.

So what is Twitter? It’s a free Micro Blog/ stream of collective consciousness/ social networking tool. From laptop or phone you enter up to 140 characters (limited because that's the max for a text message on some services) answering the simple question “what are you doing?” (like Facebook “Status”). You follow people you want, and are followed by people who want to follow you. A stream of “tweets” is served up to your desktop from the people you are following, sometimes in a clever and engaging form by applications like Twitterific (and PC equivalents). Additional tools like Mr Tweet dig out an expanding pool of people to follow, relavant to your postings and proclivities. You can also search the whole database of tweets for opinions about anything. Thus Twitter becometh, potentially, a serious marketing tool.

So, for example, I learn through Twitter that Jonathan Ross has been off in Florida on his hols with his kids, felt jet lagged when he got back, enjoyed Planes Trains and Automobiles whilst there, and hot tips Benjamin Button (available in the UK Feb) for his BBC TV show about film. Some of these information gobbets are more trivial than others. How interesting you find them depends rather on how interested you are in Wossy. I’m no dyed in the wool fan, but I actually rather like the guy more, and feel closer to him, for having some personal if trivial information about him. If I were a true fan, I’d love it. Whereas the media often dehumanize Celebrities, Twitter rehumanizes them.

As well as purely trivial tweets, people post links to their blogs, marketing tips, and the like. BBC and other media outlets post news stories as they get ’em, with links to follow up. Aha. This gets to sound more interesting. People post mini thoughts, impressions and experiences that wouldn't make a full blog post, but were good to note along the way. And you can feel your tweets through to your Facebook Status (killing, er, two birds with one stone) as well. The bigger the number following you, the more you have a purpose built advertising network for your blog, or whatever. As I twittered away last week, I noticed a steady and increasing stream coming to the blog, never more than a dozen a day with my little circle of 79 followers. Actually that's a very good conversion rate, in marketing terms. If I actually knew who half these people were...

Ah, there’s the rub. Some I do and some I don’t. Does it matter? I hate to admit it, bt I am finding Twitter to be an interesting news feed, facebook input mechanism, and marketing tool for the blog. If my little brownie ring of 79 grew into Barack Obama’s 154,878 followers (inluding me), it might become a significant component in my online presence.

You have to get your mind round what Twitter is and isn't. It’s a stream of collective consciousness, not a Big Po-Faced Hello magazine. You dip in and out of this river and dabble your toes. One would be unwise to invest more than five minutes a day in twittering, or maximum ten. Most tweets are trivial because most human information is trivial. It could have its uses, and the more people use it, the more uses it will find, no doubt. I’m definitely committed to tweeting for a few minutes this month, to investigate what it is and isn’t good for, and will say when I know... Anyone interested in following the saga blow by blow may click here.

For twitter as an Eighteenth Century Coffee Shop experience, see here.

8 comments:

Doug Chaplin said...

I must say I have so far declined to twitter, although the fact that the Mail disapproves of it makes it sound awfully tempting.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Not sure this will encourage you, Doug, but I noticed an article on one blog called "Think like a toddler and find your voice in Twitter." It’s not entirely untrue! ( http://www.twitip.com/think-like-a-toddler-and-find-your-voice-on-twitter/ )

Charles Krause said...

Twitter is a compelling media for many people, exactly because it is stream of consciousness.

Any one "tweet" IS "twaddle". I probably don't care if someone - even my closest friends - is having jam or their toast this morning, stubbed their toe, or is going out to pick up milk. However, "tweets", taken as a whole, are an excellent way of formulating a picture of someone: What things are important to them, what their temperament and personality are like, what their likes and dislikes are, what their prejudices are.

What's more, impressions formed through Twitter are likely to be very honest ones; people simply can't lie effectively or consistently over hundreds or thousands of individual utterances. No one is that good a liar.

Twitter is a social medium, and while it had been used for many other things - organizations use Twitter for announcements, promotion, or advertising; and one fellow has even written an online novel through twitter - is uses are primarily social ones. I'm skeptical as to how useful Twitter will be as a marketing tool, but many people are attempting to use it as such, and time will tell.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Charles, many thanks for an aspect of this that had not struck me. Of course! A cumulative sense of what matters to someone does emerge very clearly from their twitter stream. And it is coming from them (as long, that is as they are themselves, not a put-up job). For example, Jonathan Ross comes over from his as genuinely engaged in films, family, enjoying life, with a nice sense of proportion about himself and a genuinely relaxed attitude: probably much truer to the human being than the standard media view. I'm fascinated to hear about the novel guy...

Matt Wardman said...

Thoughts.

1 - Twitter is a way of reaching mobile phones. Of interest to the emerging people?

2 - You can feed your blog headlines through Twitter with no overhead. I notice the traffic - but more importantly it is a segment I might not otherwise get.

3 - A good way to have a "back channel". You can ask questions not designed for your full audience.

4 - I use it as an early warning. Headlines hit twitter in about 4 minutes from my blog. RSS takes up to an hour. So if I make a messup or something escapes by mistake I see it on Twitter before everybody else does on RSS.

See:
Scrutinise the Zimbabwe Elections with Twitter, Flickr: Sokwanele

http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2008/06/09/scrutinise-the-zimbabwe-elections-using-twitter-and-flickr-sokwanele/

In this case the 00s of bloggers following could help set the news agenda before anybody else noticed.

It can be far more than Twerps Tweeting - not least because it is less likely to be closed down.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Just an interesting flavoursome piece for hose following this discussion with some Twitter experiences to ponder, from Chicago - http://jbchicago.blogspot.com/2009/01/top-10-oddly-entertaining-twitter.html

dmk said...

I signed up to twitter because of,... actually the reason escapes me for now. I've said nothing, and have two followers, which is downright peculiar. Even worse, I now can't even find my password anymore. Another failed foray into new media.

Matt Wardman said...

To twitter your headlines:

twitterfeed.com

Matt

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