My thoughts on Twitter

Twitter. Some people love it, some hate and some actually have a worrying addiction to it. I thought I’d express my own thoughts on Twitter here.

The good parts

Twitter is an excellent tool to just let the world/your friends know what you’re doing right now, throw out a question or have a short discussion about virtually any topic there is. The instantness of it is really invigorating and extremely powerful!

Something I particularly like is at a event – be it a concert, conference or similar – the ability to immediately see what other people are thinking, what they’re doing and share the experience live with people that you might not have the chance to see face to face to talk with.

And, without a doubt, it is revolutionary in it how it has improved and made swift communication easier and faster between people.

The bad parts

There are a number of things I’m not too fond about Twitter; part of it is due to Twitter, part of it is, in my humble opinion, complete over usage of Twitter for something it wasn’t intended nor is optimal for.

Technical issues

I know things are getting better, but Twitter must still be one of the web services with the highest amount of errors, timeouts, sporadic downtime and similar. Frankly, I can’t believe that people put up with it. When web sites are dedicated to check if a service is down, that’s a really bad sign. E.g. Is Twitter Down?.

Character limitation

As everyone is aware of, the total amount of characters allowed for a Twitter message is 140. The reason for this limitation is that most mobile phone and systems have a limit of 160 characters, and the background to that is pretty random – read more in Why text messages are limited to 160 characters. Off the top of their heads, Twitters creators felt 20 extra characters should be sufficient for people’s user names.

Some people have got really addicted to this, stated that this is the main reason for Twitter’s success, and that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Personally, I think it’s ok at times, but truly stifling and annoying at others. One would think that this limitation would lead to people choosing their words more wisely, but, naturally with humans, the result of this is that people instead use ridiculous acronyms and various desperate ways to make things shorter. Just as with SMS, people seem to get more and more illiterate by these limitations.

From my own point of view, I hate rewriting an entire message since it was, like, two characters too long. And sure, there’s no magic limit that would suit everyone, but personally I feel that it should be removed or lifted higher. You don’t have to use every character available, just that it could be an option,

For people reading Twitter through SMS on mobile phones, just give them multiple messages. For people writing Twitter messages with SMS, just use any number of characters you have available. Simple as that.

Lack of tagging

Like I mentioned above: it’s great to read messages from a certain event or about a topic I’m interested in. The downside here is that there’s no built-in way to tag or categorize your comment, so creative people have started tagging content by adding keywords preceded by a hash (#) character. For example, if you wanted to tweet about JavaScript, you would write your message and then end it with #javascript.

They are then findable via the Twitter Search, which usually does its job but is far from optimal.

Naturally, since you already have the character limitation for messages and then use a number up for tagging, it means that by adding it to messages, the actual content will be even shorter.

Short URLs

Again, back to the character limitation. If you want to write a message and include a link, almost always you have to cut it short so it fits within 140 characters (through services like TinyURL, bit.ly etc). The result of this when reading messages is that you don’t know where the URL will lead, so you need to click it to find out. Some programs have started by expanding them when you click them, but that is still not a good user experience.

And, worst of all, is that what used to be URLs between web sites before, indexed by Google and with nice semantic text, we now have non-indexed, shortened URLs collected in a place where they almost immediately lose their meaning as soon as the moment is gone.

Lack of image support

Let’s say you’d want to complement your message with an image. Most applications for Twitter support adding it, but it will never be an option to show up inline in your message, Instead you get dependent on other services, like Twitpic, where the images will be uploaded and your message will only contain links to the actual image.

Different usage

I think some people have gone overboard with their usage of Twitter. I’m glad they like it, I really am, but when it becomes the replacement for blog comments, bookmarking, all photo sharing etc, I find it way too much.

Conclusion

Twitter is great in the sense of fast communication and sharing things, and I’m very happy it exists. I definitely understand peoples’ needs to share and mini-blog things without setting up a web site of their own, but in that aspect, I think Tumblr is a much more versatile and useful service.

Unfortunately, I think Twitter is filled with numerous limitations people constantly try to abuse, which actually leads to making the web a less good place to use. We need the content on the web to be searchable and interconnected, with easy ways to go through any history, conversations and its likes.

So, my humble request is: use Twitter as much as you want when it makes sense and becomes usable to you and everyone interested in it. Please don’t try to make it into the ultimate tool for everything and into what it isn’t. No tool will live up to that.

Me on various services

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Posted in Reviews/tests,Technology |

13 Comments

  • I like twitter for it's simplicity. I also use Jaiku and Bloggy/cuzo for more "complex" communication since they are better in pretty much anything twitter can offer.

  • Olly says:

    The simplicity is what makes Twitter great.

    The replies feature grew out of users embracing the limitations. Hashtags are following a similar path.

    If you see the lack of space and image/media support as a serious downside, you're using the wrong tool for the job. Sounds like you're looking for Tumblr / WordPress / Facebook / Blogger…

  • Rey Bango says:

    @Robert: Seems to me that the Tweetdeck twitter app resolves many of the negatives you mentioned including the short URL & easy viewing of images. Are you currently using a client or just the web site?

  • mdmadph says:

    I like Twitter because I like seeing how angry non-twitter-users will get about it. :P

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Anders,

    Absolutely, the simplicity definitely serves a need. I think we all need to consider what services serve our current need the best.

    Olly,

    I agree, it's the wrong tool for my own needs. But my concerns go a bit beyond what I need: I feel that with links and possible important information goes lost, since when it is on Twitter, content will sporadically be indexed by search engines, and links won't be at all.

    Meaning, if it had been in a web site I could find it later/read on it in a discussion group etc. With Twitter, lots of precious things just by by fairly unnoticed.

    Rey,

    Thanks for the suggestions, I do appreciate it. I use both, actually: applications and web site. I haven't used Tweetdeck, though, since I have had bad experiences previously with Adobe AIR-based apps using way too much memory.

    Also, my concerns are about my needs, but more what I mentioned just above in my reply to Olly.

    mdmadph,

    Ha ha! Generally, I agree with such a stance. :-)

  • Robert, it seems you are missing a global chat room rather than twitter. I agree that nowadays every mobile phone can aggregate messages up to 3 sms, so twitter could do the same, but images, long urls etc etc are not important, IMO. Being a fast real-time service suitable for every kind of device, how can you think about pics inside those messages? Then we will switch to another service a la E-SMS with digital content and what's next, a global email aggregator? :D

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Andrea,

    Perhaps. :-)

    I like Twitter for instantaneous communication it gives, and that it makes people share. But, what gets to me is that lots of valuable information gets lost because it's in a, sort-of, closed context with basically useless URLs.

    So, the biggest question is probably: should Twitter change to be more searchable, indexable etc, or should people adapt to spread more important information through more than one medium?

  • Jay Q says:

    Interesting points… I've been on Twitter for a couple years, but have only used it in spurts (despite having a Twitter-friendly iPhone) — I can't get addicted to it. I think you may have identified why I don't really care about it… it may be useful for people with large numbers of followers — who have things to say, but aside from comedians, I think other forums (like blogging, etc.) are better-suited.

    istwitterdown.com seems to be down… business opportunity for isistwitterdowndown.com ???

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jay,

    Yes, different forums for different needs…

    Also, I liked the domain joke, until I saw it actually already exists! :-D

  • Maaike says:

    I like Twitter for the conversations and because it's a great tool for staying in touch with people I don't get to meet in person very often. For me Twitter is very much about two-way communication; it's not simply a broadcasting system. For this reason I can't imagine using Twitter the way you appear to be doing: without following anybody back.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Maaike,

    I agree. And, most of my things are conversations, too – it's just that I don't follow anyone explicitly.

    But what I wanted to say was that in such conversations, although not mainly meant for broadcasting purposes, there could be gems of information that would be invaluable to other people too.

    But, since it's on Twitter, no one will probably ever be able to find it.

  • Maaike says:

    Hi Robert,

    That's true, but I'd rather compare Twitter to a phone conversation or a chat session, rather than, for example, a blog. You wouldn't record all of those conversations for other people either, would you?

    I guess I just don't think every bit of information on the internet needs to be searchable and preserved. The web is big enough as it is :)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Maaike,

    Absolutely. I think that my problem is rather that sure, a majority doesn't have to be indexed, but some things would be great if they were.

    So, what I'm trying to advocate here is that if you write something on Twitter that other people might gain from, please consider sharing it in a more lasting channel as well.

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