Twitter leaves me asking “Who the heck cares?”

Twitter LogoSometimes Web sites become huge hits while I stand on the sidelines the entire time, scratching my head and being unable to figure out what the attraction is. That’s exactly my take on Twitter, what has apparently become the blogger fad of the day partially due to its popularity at the geekfest SXSW.
The premise of the Twitter service is that being able to update your friends with frequent one-line descriptions of where you are and what you’re doing is somehow inherently interesting. Whether you send in updates via email, from a cellphone’s SMS service or by simply logging in to the site, 5-10 word updates dozens of times a day are the cornerstone of Twitter and its fans.
A few scintillating examples from the current batch of messages received in the last few minutes on the site (you can see what everyone’s up to by just going to the site’s home page, btw)…

“GrammarGirl: Getting a cup of tea, and then going back to dissecting the grammar of “neither.” It’s a real doozy.”
“ericnuzum: Just got done eating dinner and cleaning cat box…not at the same time.”
“ratko: making as many faces as i can with mo of course”
“karmaboy: its 8:30 and I’m already in my pj’s”
“Remy: Officially closing Chapter 1. Two more to go.”
“sharps: midterm complete!”
“huslage: Instant Messaging with my wife. She’s sitting next to me.”
I realize that I am inherently temporally challenged with these identity and activity broadcast services (which is a polite way of pointing out that I’m no longer 18 years old!) but I get the idea of having MySpace friends (I have almost 1000 on my profile) and I somewhat understand the geoproximity cellphone-based services where you can find a friend or two if you happen to be near each other.
But why in the heck would I want to know the moment “sharps” finished their midterm? Or that “ratko” is making faces with mo? Or that “karmaboy” is in his pj’s and it’s only 8.30pm? I realize I’m not their friend, but even if I was, why would I want to have such a level of granularity in my knowledge of others?
My theory: Twitter is in fact the perfect crude technological solution for exhibitionists, for people who are so convinced of their importance in the Big Picture that they believe others want to know exactly what they’re doing at all times.
Or put another way, would you be interested in knowing, or would you just not give a d*mn, if I Twittered that “I’m blogging from my hotel room in Seattle”, for example?
Meanwhile, a quick visit to Techmeme shows that Twitter’s exploding across the blogosphere, as I said in the beginning. Get other perspectives from B.L. Ochman, Andy Beal, Thomas Hawk, Steve Rubel, Robert Scoble and Ross Mayfield, then come back. I’ll wait.
Now, go to Twitter and spend a few minutes reading what’s on the home page, refreshing, and reading it again a few times.
Finally, tell me, what am I missing here? Are the mundane trivialities of people’s lives really so important, so interesting, even to their friends, that services like Twitter are anything other than the latest inane fad, destined to blossom, bloom and die all in a few weeks?

18 comments on “Twitter leaves me asking “Who the heck cares?”

  1. This is just a mini-blog. It’s great at events like SXSW. The real “feature” is that you can easily know what your friends are doing. for example, I can tell which parties at SXSW my friends are at. Yeah, using it constantly in regular life is a bit overkill. but this is a better dodgeball, basically.
    I’m twittering for my friends, not for the public. yes, it’s visible to the public (if you make it so) but that’s not why I do it.
    i started using it about 3 days before SXSW, figuring it might be fun/cool to do it there – and it has been.
    But yeah, the real utility is only when you’re at large events (conferences, etc) to me. but then again, i’m older like you. the kids use it constantly.

  2. I couldn’t see a decent use for Twitter myself. But if I ever went to SXSW, then it would be useful for finding friends (or finding out which great bands your missing). But I’m with you Dave, don’t see the point (esp. since the CIA is already watching my every move!)

  3. People who set away messages on various IMs like it because it covers all the IM programs and their friends who aren’t on IM too.
    I’ve never used it myself… but I also haven’t gotten into MySpace either.

  4. Dave, I have to agree.
    I first found out about Twitter via Seth Godin’s blog a few days ago. Now I’m the first to admit I’m a Web 2.0 addict. I’m one of those annoying guys who was chewing people’s ears off about stuff like flickr, gmail, blogging, podcasting, whatever… before they hit the vernacular (sad, I know).
    So as you can imagine I was quick to visit Twitter and create an account. I screwed around for a while but for the life of me could not figure out what the freak I would want to do with it.
    I can’t imagine spending much time there anytime soon. As for flickr… I still visit most days, and I have over 600 photos on there. I have made friends all over the world and even my Mum has joined.

  5. I used it like crazy at the LIFT conference in Geneva. It was really useful: I was late for the confernce and could still “follow” it in the train because everybody was twittering their personal impression of what was going on in the sessions. We used it as a backchannel (in addition to IRC and the blogs) and to see where people were.
    Once at home, however, I stopped following my twitter friends after a few days, and now I only check it out occasionally. Seems like it was the same at SXSW. So I guess it’s a really useful tool for events, but perhaps not all that exciting in everyday life.

  6. Sheesh, Dave … do I have to become part of the cell phone borg again just to understand what all the fritter is about twitter? My guess is that the party will be over before I sell my soul and buy another phone.

  7. Dave:
    I tend to view this particular idea in a different light; Twitter is simply a representation of the long tail of “state”. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the servlet driving the presentation later is named “statuses”. 😉
    The utility value of knowing the “state” of anything is typically greater than zero. Examples of things whose state is of great interest include a purchase requisition, the repair of your auto, or the health of a hospitalized friend. There are millions of contexts where state information is quite valuable.
    Twitter’s members seem to regard presence and current activity as useful information. Indeed, the comments above validate the idea that this is useful, but only in certain contexts – the like of which vary depending on the activity of the information producer and the utility value derived by the information consumer. Twitter is not a unique publishing model – it has producers and consumers like all publishing models. Perhaps it’s greatest attraction is the lack of friction in the publishing and consumption processes.
    As such, the service appears to satisfy the millions of markets of “few” that feel compelled to share their personal state with those “few” members that really care.
    More often than not, we look at new [seemingly wacky] ideas and expect them to fit into a new-wacky-idea-pigeon-hole. However, the nature of this publish-subscribe idea seems to embrace long-tail advantages (i.e., transactions are cheap) and drifts elegantly close to blending first-life with second-life.
    Another observation…
    As I’ve been saying (for the last several years), information objects are becoming smaller. There are many reasons for this, but Twitter is just one indicator that information wants to be small(er) and free of course. 😉 The smaller, more contextual, more focused, and more discrete information objects become, the more findable (and avoidable) they also become.

  8. I login every day or two to twitter and post something inane.
    I DO like seeing what friends are up to, every once in a while, hence I use it.
    Use, not abuse. Not Obsess. I got plenty of other ways to waste my time!

  9. Um, err, no, that’s not what I’m saying at all, Jim. I use tons of services – and promote them enthusiastically – without any prospect of monetary gain. What I don’t get about Twitter is why anyone online would think that the trivia of their day would be of any interest to others in the online world.

  10. There is a group of wine bloggers that is experimenting with twitter as a way of feeding quick immediate tasting notes. I think I am skeptical but open minded about this… a sort of “what I am drinking now” thread could create some fun conversations. I suppose. I may join in if I find the time – and there’s the rub!

  11. I too am mystified by Twitter. I suppose it’s the next generation beyond Livejournal – removing any pretense of publication, thought or writing, and bringing blogging to the level of IRC or Instant Messaging.
    Think of it like IRCing with a bullhorn I suppose.

  12. Great Post…I don’t have time to read well though out posts…Why would I read content generated on the fly without much thought. Couldn’t agree with you more on this…Jitendra

  13. I have tried to force myself to acknowledge the value of Twitter and am unable to do so for the same reasons you mention. Twitter appears to be another example of feeding the web’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder. Many of the high traffic blogs (Engadget comes to mind) manage to say everything they need to about any topic in about 7 lines of text or less. Twitter goes even further and makes it a single line of text. It is a way to fulfill a desire to be interrupted on a continous basis with trivial amounts of data.

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