As someone with a semi-active Twitter account, I find myself answering questions about Twitter a lot. Mainly: It seems like the dumbest website in the world so why the hell would I ever want to join Twitter?
At the stereotype soundbite level, that's a good question. A website devoted to writing short, mindless messages about daily banalities using words without vowels and reading the similar musings of Soulja Boy and Demi Lovato seems like it could be, quite possibly, the dumbest website in the world. (With all due respect to Yahoo Answers.)
I'd like to argue that it's not. Here are 11 reasons why Twitter isn't completely stupid... and why it's worth it to sign up.
It's the best source ever for breaking news. News breaks instantly -- and spreads quickly -- on Twitter. There are two reasons. One, when you have Twitter up on your screen or on your phone, it's always updating, and the whole "retweeting" system of reposting other people's tweets makes it inordinately easy to share news.
The second, more important reason: Many publications, reporters and famous types actually break news on Twitter now. This happens the most with sports news, but, in general, because of the nature of the 24-hour news cycle and competition to be first with a story, there's no better place to break a story. Well, there are *better* places, but there aren't faster places. And like all Americans, if given the choice between right and fast, I choose fast.
It's a better place to connect with strangers than Facebook or the others. There's a chance you're on the Internet with no intention of hearing anything from any random strangers. And I definitely don't blame you -- spend 15 minutes reading comments on a YouTube video or any political news story and you'll decide that society crumbled when you weren't looking and it's time to strap yourself to a giant boulder and jump off an overpass.
But if you do want to find, connect or interact with new people, Twitter's a good place to do it. Unlike Facebook, you can befriend someone on Twitter without them gaining access to your career information, photos, friend network, virtual farm crops and more. Twitter is like standing on the front lawn and having a conversation with a stranger who's walking his dog past your house; Facebook is like inviting him in to look through photo albums and sign you up for a pyramid scheme where you need to recruit people to sell vacuum cleaners.
You don't HAVE to post your generic thoughts. With Twitter, you don't necessarily have to do anything. You don't have to post cliches like what you had for breakfast. You don't have to vent about how much you hate traffic and/or Mondays. You don't have to respond to inane (and often misspelled) daily memes like tweeting about #howwomenisdumb or #youknowyouroldwhen.
You can sign up, follow some news sources, people in your industry, real-life friends, strangers, and tween celebrities -- and then just lurk and watch what they say. If you never write anything, no one will really want to follow you -- but collecting followers doesn't have to be your endgame.
We're gonna do this one day, Dan.
If you've got beef with a company, you can get a response. Almost every major company has a Twitter account now, and most of them have at least one dedicated social media person whose job it is to post on the feed and interact with customers. And that person isn't outsourced either -- it's probably a 28-year-old with glasses and an Acura, and not one parked outside the facility in Bangladesh.
The good news about that? If you want to make sure a message gets through to a faceless company -- and get an answer directly from that company -- it's your best bet. (Well, your second best bet. I still think the investigative reporter from the local news who kicks down doors and confronts shady companies in their cars is slightly more effective.) If you start complaining and wailing on the company on Twitter, you'll probably hear from them. And they'll probably give you an apology and a coupon.
(Sometimes it gets even better. After LeBron and his chinstrap beard left Cleveland for Miami and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing open letter about LeBron in Comic Sans, I tweeted that I wanted to kiss Dan Gilbert on the mouth. Within an hour his company, Quicken Loans, tweeted me thanks and let me know that, one day, perhaps that could be a possibility. So, heads up, Dan Gilbert -- if I ever see you face-to-face, I'm bringing it in for the real thing. I got tweetmission.)
140 characters is just about right for us to communicate our thoughts. I started to figure this out when text messaging took over and Twitter cemented it. We don't really need to talk as much as we do. And Twitter's 140 characters is really enough. Even though it's a medium dedicated to tens of millions of people spewing whatever drivel is on their mind... on some level, it's a form of communication that completely trims the fat. There's no room to dance around or gratuitously, unnecessarily, obnoxiously overstuff your masterful prose with adverbs and adjectives.
It makes you a better texter. When you're used to carefully crafting 140-character tweets, the extra 20 characters you get for a 160-character text message feel like a sweet luxury. Twenty characters doesn't seem like much, but that extra 14 percent makes you feel like Leon Uris out there.
Some think MySpace was trying to have just a little too much going on.
It's less complicated than the other options. There's a certain elegant simplicity to Twitter. It's like the anti-Facebook. (Which was already the anti-MySpace. So I guess that makes Twitter the anti^2-MySpace. Keep that in mind if you ever want to calculate the area of a MySpace circle.)
Twitter is viewed as prohibitively complex, but it's much simpler to use and understand than the other options. I guess the complexity lies more in the "why" of Twitter than the "how."
It's an advertising-free environment. Other than a message from a spammer here or there, Twitter is basically ad-free. You know, it's one of those companies that's valued at $6 billion or so even though they're hemorrhaging money. The Underpants Gnomes would be so proud.
The trending topics list is fascinating (even if what the people say about those topics isn't). For those unfamiliar, Twitter keeps a constantly-updated list of the 10 (cowards) words or phrases that are appearing in the most total tweets at that moment. It's a snapshot look at the worldwide zeitgeist of that exact moment in time. I find that fascinating. And also a tremendous way to learn the names of members of Korean boy bands.
Just don't bother to click through to see what people are saying about the trends. As I put in a graph in my 11 Funny Graphs About Twitter list, once a topic is trending, almost all of the tweets become either people jamming the keyword in to try to get attention to their tweet or people saying "Hey, why is _____ trending?"
Buddy bands dropped in value once Mr. Belding wore one. Crafty move by Zack.
It's still cool because it's only young people. With every trend that emerges, it's worthwhile to look at the Buddy Bands effect. It's based off an old "Saved by the Bell" episode and can be boiled down to this: Once someone who's older and uncool gets on board with a fad, it's dead.
That's certainly happened with Facebook. That thing's getting filled up with more grandparents than a Bob Evans. (Not to mention other uncool types like parents, principals and people from New Mexico.) Twitter still mostly scares them all away.
You get information straight from the horse's mouth. Since around 2004, when the media finally decided that it was fine to report stuff without fact checking it anymore, incorrect stories have occasionally come out. (Hourly, approximately.) With Twitter, you're actually getting information from the sources themselves, not quotes that have been poured through any Brita filter of Liberal Media distortion. It's cutting out the middleman as a path to fact. (And, fittingly, when it comes to celebrities addressing rumors and anonymous sources, the phrase "deep throat" still comes up sometimes.)
This post was originally published on Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Web & Tech.