It's not you, Twitter. It's me. Or maybe it is you, at least a little.
I've been on Twitter for several months now and still haven't warmed to it. For me, it's like dating a handsome, smart guy my parents and friends love, but with whom I just don't click. And maybe he has some mildly annoying habits, like chewing gum with his mouth open, that grow to be a major annoyance over time. (Not that this ever happened to me in real life. I tended to date guys everyone -- except me -- could agree were jerks.)
Much of my dissatisfaction with Twitter has to do with its seeming inefficiency as a communications tool. I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt this way. But I'm not, based on a couple of recent blog posts that nicely encapsulate some of my feelings about Twitter.
Seth Godin has two reasons for not using Twitter, both of which relate to the time involved. First, he won't commit to a tool unless he can use it really well. Obviously, taking the time to communicate via Twitter can eat up lots of time. And he doesn't want to insert a staff between himself and the people with whom he interacts. (It does look like Godin now uses Twitter simply to broadcast links to his latest blog posts.) He writes:
If you want to be in multiple social media and also have a day job, you're going to need a staff. Scoble is the poster child for being everywhere, all the time, but it's all he does.
Godin found a chat tool ate up three or four hours of his day when it was installed on his network at work in 1993. The tool was removed because of its adverse effect on productivity. IT Business Edge VP Ken-Hardin had a similar experience with instant messaging, but was able to curtail his usage by making a few behavior modifications, such as using e-mail for more involved and/or less urgent communications. (Thank goodness. Because I'm only exaggerating a little when I say the rest of us couldn't live without our IM.)
On the how to save the world blog, Dave Pollard points out Twitter's basic inefficiency, by defining it as "an instant messaging tool where the recipients of the messages are determined by the recipients, not by the sender." That's rght. When you think about it, it doesn't really make sense. Sometimes, the emperor really is naked.
After crunching some numbers, Pollard estimates he spends some 240 hours a year scanning about 36,000 tweets. From them, he "discover(s) about 200 interesting or memorable thoughts or ideas, identif(ies) a third of the content of my Links of the Week blog posts, have perhaps 20 useful follow-up one-on-one conversations and maybe make two new real friends." So, he writes:
If I spent that 240 hours in other social activities, would the yield be higher or lower?
That's a tough question to answer. But I know I experience some of Pollard's frustrations with Twitter. The 140-character length limit results in "a lot of cryptic messages you don't understand." This is true, although I can also see the inverse, that the limit inspires you to be concise and creative in your communications. Still, Pollard notes that reading tweets from someone attending a conference is rarely a valuable use of time, because "there is simply no context to provide meaning." And he hits on one of my pet peeves, seeing all the replies and re-Tweets from people you don't follow.
Twitter appeals most to news junkies and to people seeking affirmation, says Pollard. He thinks Twitter may end up suffering the same fate as earlier and more priimitive iterations of social networking like Usenet (a tool with which I am not familiar). With such tools, users realized the connections they made were more imagined than real.
Some people may realize this sooner than others. As Mike Schaffner notes in a Forbes piece, Nielsen numbers indicate that 60 percent of U.S. residents who try Twitter abandon it within a month. Power users account for most of the tweeting. Schaffner cites TechCrunch numbers that 80 percent of Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers and just 22 percent of accounts have more than 10 updates.
For their non-work communications, people will want tools that more closely approximate actual face-to-face contact, says Pollard. At work, most of us would like IM with send-publish-and/or-subscribe capabilities. (Oooh yes!) That may be coming with Google Wave, he suggests. And he isn't the only one. Some folks see Google Wave as a serious competitor to Microsoft's SharePoint. In any case, writes Pollard, "expect to see IM and Twitter-type reverse-IM tools integrated within the next few months. It just makes sense."