I STARTED LISTENING to Twitter back in October 2006 and followed Liam Burke into the Twitterverse on the 7th of December 2006 on the day that Jaiku's robin started bugging me. I've a little copy book containing scrawled notes from mid-October 2006 that shows a little matrix of comparisons between threaded comments on Jaiku and meandering thoughts on Twitter. Listening to Twitter was an exercise in economy of expression because most of the earliest Irish users were part of the Cork mafia and they were a hands-on crew of real developers. The crowd has become noisier since then. I regret my failure to impose Twitter on all my creative multimedia students at that time because if they were connected on the system, I'd be in close contact with graduates living 12 time zones away now. Back in October 2006, I pulled most of my information from feeds first, tweets last. That's nearly flipped on its head now. I was holding onto some old URLs and watching some old friends lose their grip on life. I was more interested in their progress, not in messing around with something that looked anemic without a comment stream. I learned about Chris Gulker's brain tumor in October 2006, a condition not well-suited for 140-character exchanges. Chris is barely hanging onto life today. And I'm actually surprised Twitter is still around, one billion tweets later, because those early days were fraught with broken service and a dearth of Irish users. Things have changed--reliability is higher and the number of Irish using Twitter is around the same population as the number of full-time third level students on campuses around Ireland. This makes Twitter more interesting than the average office water cooler. And even though Twitter is still a niche service, you're running naked if you don't know how to listen to a live public twitterstream.
Twitter has given my online world a real human layer. That's not because Twitter is such a perfect communications system. Instead, it's down to people caring less about personal privacy and thinking it's natural to share opinions, locations and links.
All that sharing costs time and Twitter is certainly a time investment. Used wisely, Twitter can save time. I’ve always used rapid collaboration tools like IRC and IM before and I still use Google Chat and Skype phone service today. Twitter is like instant messaging but with a lot higher potential for interruption.
I would never have survived four years of "always-on Twitter" because it would have been too distracting. I also question how productive tweeting people can be and I wonder what sort of social lives they have if they’re constantly tweeting. I can't fathom how people who manually send more than 30 tweets a day can hold down a management job. Four years on from the time Ireland lighted up its presence on Twitter, some of those high profile Irish people use web services to push their links, location updates and current photos to Twitter.
I think Twitter has the greatest value for me during conferences. I watch people signing up for events on Plancast and then interact with real time comments from the room and beyond while a session is in progress. I can write Trip Reports by following twitterstreams published with hashtags. I top up my requests for reimbursement by scanning tweets that I aggregate in my Google Reader.
I view a lot of Twitter as newsfeeds inside Feedly. It's faster to read tweets that way--hundreds of them--than in a mobile browser. I get much more value out of favourites saved by people on Twitter than from retweets by people. Twitter's direct messaging is also powerful but my phone lets me call anyone in Ireland for free so I'd rather put a voice to the person. However, it's handy knowing that O2-Ireland texts me for free whenever I get a direct message on Twitter.
As a mass collaboration device Twitter can be very messy and time consuming. I think internal business microblogging services such as Yammer are much more useful and those better-engineered services can streamline time spent on breaking projects.
In my experience, Twitter is better through a client on the phone rather than Twitter.com on the main desktop website. That's because Twitter is merely a communications protocol. It's a 140 character packet with a payload. During my time on Twitter, it has been pushed further and further down the stack just like RSS has submerged into my Outlook, Google Reader, Ovi apps and podcatcher. That said, Twitter is a very effective tube through which publishers might connect with subscribers. Annoyingly for me, the mainstream adoption of Twitter as a megaphone for celebrities has distorted understanding of the power of the tool. With celebs, wannabes and government agencies cropping up all over Twitter, it appears that 2011 will be even worse.
Twitter applications like Gravity, Seesmic and Tweetcaster cede powerful controls to readers. No longer is the publisher of the content stream. When leveraging Twitter effectively, the user is king--and when I use it best, I'm filling dead time in queues or out on the road.
Enough of my rambling--I have course notes to revise. I’m going to continue to be very aware of any time I invest in using Twitter and monitoring the value closely next semester as I force redundant Dell workers to seek new options by scraping the Twitterstream. And as I set up that process, I doubt I'll use the main Twitter site as a starting point.
Remembering Dave Stewart blogging (not tweeting) from his death bed four years ago.
Michele Neylon -- "Twitter is dumb" on his blog, 14 March 2007.
Damien Mulley -- "Why did you leave Twitter?" on his blog, 4 January 2010.
Pat Phelan -- "Four years on Twitter"