How Twitter works for me


So I’ve been on Twitter for several weeks now and it’s about time I thought a bit about why.

For the uninitiated I should explain that Twitter is a service that helps people keep in touch with each other using a website, RSS feeds, instant messaging and text messages. Its basic premise is to answer the question “what are you doing now?”.

My initial concern when I signed up was that I’d be inundated with mundane announcements about people’s domestic movements that I really didn’t need to know about.

Browsing around Twitter there seems to be a fair amount of this type of posts, but the key is that you have control over the people you get updates from – so if you’re not happy with the posts that one of your “friends” is making, then unsubscribe – simple as that.

Since I’ve been using Twitter I’ve noticed several ways that it has added value to my professional life:

  • Finding out about new stuff fast – this is the digital grapevine at its fastest – and I’ve certainly found about things faster than picking them up from blogs or searches
  • Short conversations – I’ve had interactions with people I know that don’t merit writing an email, but were valuable all the same. Without Twitter these interactions just wouldn’t have happened.
  • As a micro-blogging tool – posting stuff that doesn’t merit a full blog post, but that I’d like to share anyway. I will probably think about how to integrate the feed into my blog properly, although the replies to friends’ messages don’t make sense out of context, so I’ll have to strip them out from the RSS feed (surely I can do this in Pipes with a bit of perseverence).

The two main concerns I have with Twitter are stability and threaded conversations:

Twitter has experienced a phenomenal growth in subscribers over the past month, and sometimes the site has become unusably slow. However over the past week or so I haven’t had this problem much, so maybe they’ve increased their capacity.

A more fundamental problem I have is that when a “friend” of yours has a conversation (where the posts are prefixed with @username) with another Twitter member, you only see half the conversation. Here’s an example, courtesy of Simon Collister:

simoncollister @paull Of course! 😉 @drew good point. But even the number of blogging contacts seems to have gone up recently. about 14 hours ago from web

Now as I don’t have Paull and Drew as “friends” in Twitter, I don’t see the other half of the conversation, so it makes no sense.

The only way I can find out what the conversation is about is click into Simon’s Twitter page and read the conversation there. That’s fine when you’re looking on the Twitter website, but when you’re following Twitter on instant messaging, text messaging or RSS feeds that’s just not an option.

So I’m sticking with Twitter for now to see how things develop.

There’s been a bit of buzz around a similar service called Jaiku recently, so I’m going to check that one out too and see how it fares against Twitter.