Why No One Wants to Start Using Twitter

I'm currently reading a paper in which Jennifer Preece, a professor in the Information Systems Department at the University of Maryland, outlines three components of sociability to support social interaction online:


Since my life has been intertwined in what is now an eight month experiment with Twitter, I can't help but putting the community into the scope of these terms. I think it helps explain why Twitter is unpopular to start using. The basic communicated purpose of Twitter is very weak.

Watch this brief introduction video to Twitter:

What do you get out of that? Twitter is for telling people I'm going to get a gallon of milk. Twitter is for telling people I'm going out for coffee. Twitter is for telling people I'm watching a movie. So Twitter is just for status messages? The profiles are weak, the ability to find your friends is weak, and the communication is constrained and limited. So basically, it's Facebook without everything that is interesting. It's no wonder that the majority of people view Twitter along these lines:

So what is it that actually makes Twitter interesting? Why do people prefer it over Facebook or MySpace? A second paper by Preece may help shed some light. She says that "defining the community's purpose is important so that potential participants can immediately find out about the communities goals."

What's the problem with Twitter?- The purpose and goals of the community are wildly different from the purpose and goals defined by the basic definition of Twitter.

Here is what makes Twitter interesting for me:
  • Professional contacts.
  • A living, breathing, always-active recommendation system - whether that means a restaurant in Boston, the best shoes to buy, or interesting blog to read.
  • Group discussion and dialogue about trending events.
  • The ability to mobilize for social justice, local charities, or even just personal help.
  • The ability to draw like-minded (and not so like-minded) people together in the real world for real events.
  • For spreading news fast, accurately, and with multiple perspectives.
  • Viewing the personal face of corporations and businesses (@pandora_radio, @comcastcares, etc.)
I don't think my list is anywhere near unique, but not a single one of those reasons are on the Twitter website (that I know of). I had to slowly and gradually learn each and every one. To be honest, I never would have started using Twitter if it wasn't for an off-the-cuff decision to attend Social Media Camp Boston on an uneventful summer afternoon.

I'm never going to join a community where its purpose is to let people know I'm buying a gallon of milk down at Shaws. Maybe Twitter ought to stop pitching it that way.


Virtual High-Five: A Smattering of Reading

To substitute for a lack of writing on my part, here are some things I have been reading lately:

For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can't
By Miguel Helft
An interesting read from the NY Times about the use of technology for the blind.

Epistemological Pluralism and Revaluation of the Concrete
by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert
Don't be intimidated by the title. This is a brilliant paper about computers and approaches to education. Best article I've read this year.

A Palace in Time: Supporting Children's Spiritual Development through New Technologies
by Marina Bers
Inspired by Heschel's phrase a "palace in time" about the Jewish Sabbath, this article explores the spiritual development of children through interaction in a virtual world, Zora, created by the author.

Autonomous Military Robotics: Risks, Ethics, and Design
by Ethics & Emerging Technologies Group at Cal Poly
As robots becoming increasingly prevalent in military technology, the ethical questions become more and more difficult. This report explores those issues. It is lengthy, but worth skimming.

Twitter and Status Updating Memo

by Pew Internet & American Life Project
A six page memo that paints a portrait of the average Twitter user in comparison to other social media outlets. "11% of online adults use Twitter or update their status online. Twitter users are mobile, less tethered by technology."