In praise of Twitter

I am surprised how many people still think Twitter is a fad or a waste of time.  I view Twitter — or some modified future version thereof — as everlasting.  Most of all, the search function helps you tap into a real time conversation on just about any topic you want, including the lecture you just gave.  Google is wonderful but it's hard to sort through the mess and figure out where the conversation is now.  For sampling opinion on either movies or music, Twitter is essential, or even for researching a forthcoming blog post.  Think of it as Google focused on one time-slice and giving the weight of crowd opinion no more than linear force.  If an opinion is more common it will receive more tweets but otherwise your search brings up the splat, ordered by chronology, and thus it is more idiosyncratic than the first Google search page and often in a good way.

At least now, the people on Twitter are smarter on average than the people whose choices feed into Google.  I am not sure that particular benefit will last forever,

If you can find some people worth following, so much the better.  But the value of the medium doesn't much depend on what they had for breakfast.

Many people use Twitter to ask for advice; I have yet to learn how to do this well.

Comments

I find the opinions expressed of less value than old AOL chatrooms.

It just seems like a lot of tweet for twat.

Personally, I dislike twitter because it becomes yet another thing that requires upkeep and saps attention from other projects.

There are only so many hours in the day, and I find social networks/e-mail/blackberries jarring and distracting. It outweighs any benefits I can imagine.

I would concede the possibility that Twitter could be useful, but in practice it doesn't seem to very much, and seems to mostly be a distraction, as some others have noted. For a well-written anti-Twitter piece, see Why I Don't Use Twitter:

"What can be said in 140 characters is either trivial or abridged; in the first case it would be better not to say it at all, and in the second case it would be better to give it the space it deserves."

Tyler,

I just saw Jerry Seinfeld on Saturday night performing his new stand-up routine. He has some great jokes about twitter, dialogue and learning. I would be interested to see how you would respond to his social critique (through observational satire). The audience appreciated his critique, but of course that could be just caught up in his delivery. He also made fun of Blackberry, and Starbucks.

Pete

To follow up on the earlier post on Twitter usernames...if you want economics-related Tweeters, there a directory to be found here:

http://wefollow.com/twitter/economics

It's not exhaustive, since users have to submit themselves, but it's interesting to poke through. It's also organized in descending order of number of followers so you don't have to search through a billion people with 5 followers each.

For asking for advice, I am actually more in favor of Aardvark -- http://vark.com -- I seem to get good, fairly accurate advice

P.S. Last week I had to find guitar picks at 10pm on a Friday. (Apparently it's suboptimal to play a guitar with a quarter.) No amount of Googling could help me, so I posed the challenge to the Twitter universe. It took about 30 seconds to get a satisfactory response, and the response came from someone who I don't really know as a friend. (In other words, it's not like I owuld have called him and asked.) I do acknowledge that this is not what Twitter is most often used for, but it's an helpful system to have when you need it.

(In case you're curious, random music supplies can be found 24/7 at the convenience store across the street from Berklee College of Music in Boston. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, and I consider this a big win for free-market capitalism.)

One other great use of Twitter: at conferences. Few academic conferences have attendees on laptops, but at a conference on enterprise uses of virtual worlds, almost everyone had a laptop open. Twitter allowed for those present to keep a running commentary and discussion just by including the hastag #3DTLC.

The twitter stream was used by the moderator (for Q&A), and also followed by people in the industry who couldn't attend. It sounds rude to have people typing while the speakers were talking, but it actually worked out quite well. Everyone was engaged with the material covered in the session, if not with what a speaker was saying at that moment.

I suppose Twitter is useful for sampling public opinion, if the only opinions you are interested in are the opinions of twits.

"What can be said in 140 characters is either trivial or abridged; in the first case it would be better not to say it at all, and in the second case it would be better to give it the space it deserves."

In the second case ("abridged"), those statements often ARE given the space they deserve. Twitter is incredibly useful for making a quick description of a link or blog post and then providing said link/post (which expounds upon that statement.) It's not necessarily used to convey a full idea, but rather to advertise an idea. Kind of like...a super mini paper abstract, but less academic (obviously.)

If Twitter was a public company I would feel confident shorting it.

Twitter's search capability is what makes it. I've already used it for so many kinds of informal sociological mining.... I searched a festival's name throughout the day and people told me who was playing when. I searched "Snow Leopard" on the launch day of the OS to see how people's installs were going. I searched "Facebook app" on a day mine was crashing and discovered that it was widespread, not just me.

The fundamental axiom of markets is that the sum of individual knowledges is greater than any single entity could keep track of (or something like that, perhaps expressed more eloquently). Point being, there is an invaluable potential in the ability to instantly collect individual knowledges about a certain topic or event that would previously have been scattered and isolated.

If You knew what a "twit" meant in english then a you may gain a better perspective of the adverse reaction some of us have to the name "twitters".
Apart from that good sites surface and a grow because they serve a purpose, not because of hype.

Television is also neither a fad nor a waste of time. Yet I strongly suspect you don't watch TV (if MR mentions television popular culture at all, it's only rarely and as part of some "markets in everything" post). Life is about choices and there are only so many hours in a day.

One big problem with Twitter is the low signal-to-noise ratio. There is already far, far more thought-provoking and pithy content out there than we can ever get around to reading. Following Twitter just doesn't make the cut.

And yet I strongly suspect that some very distant future descendant of Twitter will not only draw in today's abstainers, but replace the current Internet entirely (much like the Internet made dialup online BBSs and Usenet obsolete by providing everything they did and also much more). Some kind of ubiquitious ambient zeitgeist and grapevine, not merely up-to-the-minute but up-to-the-subsecond, a warm bath of collective thoughts darting and abruptly changing direction like a school of small fish in the ocean.

You folks must be using a Twitter different from what I see.

I follow this comic artist, I comment on things he says. The only person who sees these comments is the comic artist. I don't see other people's comments, just his responses to their comments. They are meaningless to me.

This is why Twitter looks like a bad way to go about things. I think it ought to be just like a blog, only with shorter responses.

I'm also not seeing how people post to the "twitter universe" from the web interface. I get my own set of people I follow and an option to search that universe, I don't get a tool for posting a question to the universe or for seeing posts as they come in. You must need a third-party solution for this.

Search twitter on Google trends. For a network that relies on volume it looks like their growth has stopped before ever hitting critical mass. If/when twitter figures out how to monetize traffic what incentive do the people with most traffic have to stay on twitter instead creating their own site to monetize their own traffic? I see anyone/company with significant traffic heading this way.
Twitter will be irrelevant in 2 years.

I don't don't want to have to sift through the opinions of the garbage herd to find those that i respect and am in continuous passive search for it. Blogs are far superior for this reason; they link to those that explicitly are mentioned. In fact, it was in a "politics of the internet" that the professor explicitly mentioned this very blog as the eminent center of the academic blogopshere (Henry Farrell, 2007). But by extension, the truly valuable blogs i've discovered through this one have been remarkable in their content.

Twitter has a lot of content, for sure, but they do not filter it properly. It is faddish still in the manner in which things are disseminated, in which data is conveyed from the primary source to the new searcher (which is not necessarily, or even most of the time, through a person whose articulation of the topic is both knowledgeable and coherent). It is because of this tsunami of ridiculous banter banter by users that blogs are still far superior, just because they still manage to stand alone. That they stand alone is a mark of their durability, of their value. Anyone can tweet. How many people have content like MR?

Tony Hurst from the Open University has some great ideas using Twitter API and Yahoo Pipes... Find his blog at http://bit.ly/Oy5Te or Twitter @psychemedia

Regards,
Edward Lewis (@Edward_Lewis)

As a new Twitter user and someone that has to be brought up to speed quickly for my job, I have been uber overwhelmed!!! I know it will get better, but Tweeting, Facebooking, Diiging, Flickring, Youtubing, etc...gets crazy!!! I would love a step-by-step on how to set your company up for success in the Web 2.0/Social Media/PR 2.0 days. Phew!!!

Twitter offers many opportunities if used correctly, since is a quick way to get a message across. www.twitterscore.info

Twitter can be compared to Enterprise Security. It is complex and very useful for people. And you are right about it: twitter will become a powerful communication tool for the future.

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