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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