Bitter Twitches

By Lachlan Hardy
2143h Tuesday, 03 April 2007 Permalink

Twitter is a strange beast. Adored and loathed in probably equal parts, the debate of Twitter’s usefulness will continue unabated. Just as the debate about MySpace’s attractiveness or the virtue of OSX over Windows, it seems destined to become one of the tech world’s ‘holy wars’.

It is once you make the decision to have a Twitter account, though, that the real issues begin. Public or private? Friend or follower? Site name, real name or a fresh pseudonym? And how much is too much?

For some people, these decisions are easy. But others have circumstances complicated by personality, friendships, exposure, gender, and employment. These issues have been confronted by the users of all new personal publishing platforms. Twitter is no different, but its immediacy brings new scope to concerns about privacy.

What do you use Twitter for and how does your concept of its use conflict with others?

Some people use it for keeping up with real-life friends and some use it for keeping up with interesting ideas. Some people use it for networking. These are all really the one use: a simple low cost-of-entry method for learning about somebody you’re interested in. It’s the end points that differ.

What do others do with all that information I publish everyday? They read it, skim it, skip it. Sometimes they respond in public, via Twitter or a blog post. Sometimes privately, by email, direct tweet or IM . My Twitter ‘friends’ aren’t the only ones with that information - Google and Technorati index it and anybody can find it.

And once it’s on Google…

It becomes permanent. That information is never going away. It will be forever available in various caches and search engines for the lifespan of the internet as we know it. No wonder some people feel uncomfortable. Caught-in-the-moment tweets may be regretted later. Twitter will let you delete them, but Google won’t.

Many of my friends keep their Twitters private, restricted only to those they select as friends. This banishes the spectre of permanence, but creates fresh social dilemmas. Technology offers no solutions for how to let someone know that you don’t want them to see your tweets.

Going back to high school

This is both exclusive and excluding. It leads to bruised feelings and hurt comments, creating pain on both sides. Reminds me of adolescence…

With good reason, because these hurt feelings exist as we, the users, have not evolved to match the technologies. And I don’t mean that our sharks don’t have frickin’ laser beams on their heads. We’ve not yet equipped ourselves to cope with the social implications of using them. Twitter is just the latest in an ongoing line of disruptive technologies that are not only changing the way we view and use this thing we call ‘the Web’, but also changing the way we interact with each other.

We often refer to technologies as ‘immature’ to show that we see further development; that it has not yet reached its fullest potential. It is not a term people use to describe themselves in relationship to a technology very often, but it fits with increasing frequency as what we build progresses further from how we think.

New technologies require consideration

Joining Twitter requires as much careful consideration as starting a blog or publishing photos on Flickr. Sure, you can just throw yourself out there and damn the consequences, but there will be consequences . Or you can carefully consider the possible benefits for you versus the potential downsides, weigh them up, then choose. I figure most of us fall somewhere in between.

There will always be people who embrace everything full throttle. And there will be always be those who turn away and pretend it isn’t happening. I don’t think that web professionals can afford to be either. We need to have a sense of proportion; to balance the thrill of the new against the hard-won experience. So, dive in to Twitter, folks. Get with it. Learn about it. Feel the pain, the joy and the undeniable banality. Teach yourself all the tricks and pitfalls. I guarantee you’ll find that useful, no matter what you ultimately decide about Twitter.


There are 27 comments on this post.

Gary Barber
2230h Tuesday, 03 April 2007 Permalink

Second post, with real content. and a meaty subject at that. next you’ll be thinking of topics all day long.


It’s still funny encountering people that just don’t get it with twitter. It’s like Myspace to some, you are right it opens up the universal debate, is it a waste of time or not. Different people use it different ways, often well away from what was intended.

2248h Tuesday, 03 April 2007 Permalink

“Joining Twitter requires as much careful consideration as starting a blog or publishing photos on Flickr”

You know I love you man. I respect you. But this is complete bollocks. Taking pretty photos and posting them every day takes effort. Posting a well-thought-through blog post takes effort, and doing so regular even more so.

But rattling off 140 characters of randomness takes next to no effort, and I’m sure you’ll agree that this is one of the reasons twitter is so popular.

As for the potential ramifications that you suggest, my opinion is this: people who experience dillemmas over how they are perceived and who might be offended by their friend settings probably agonize over these same issues in meat space. Twitter just inflicts upon them that disease that Jim Carrey suffered from in “Liar, Liar”, where they then think out loud without thinking through the consequences.

So listen up folks: if you wouldn’t say it on television, you shouldn’t be twittering it. There’s a place for that shit, it’s called a spiral bound journal. If you understand that, you won’t get yourself in trouble, and twitter will become just another mindless, but kinda fun, time drain. Like Mario Karts and Sudokus.

0634h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

I have to agree with Matt on the Twitter vs blogs and Flickr thing, but not 100% – I don’t think that it’s all “140 characters of randomness.”

If you’re the kind of person that moves around a lot in the course of the day and needs to let a number of people know where you’ll be, Twitter could be quite a useful service, certainly less time-intensive and intrusive than bulk emailing that crap all the time.

The fact that Twitter is being used for things that it wasn’t really intended for (pseudo-IM, etc) is kind of cool, but people need to realise – especially with public accounts – that it’s not a private conversation. There are lot of people (and Google) eavesdropping.

You might be right, maybe it’s us, not the technology that’s a bit immature.

Lachlan Hardy
0653h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Matt, read the sentence you quoted again. I’m not saying Twitter requires as much effort as those other activities. I’m saying you need to consider the implications just as deeply.

This needs saying precisely because Twitter has such a low cost-of-entry. People are joining Twitter in droves right now because of buzz. They’re not necessarily thinking about what it could mean to them, socially or emotionally

Basically, you’re saying the same thing as me. Except you think the implications are obvious. I think some of them are, but only if you stop to think about it for a few minutes. Not everyone does that.

PS I love you too, man :)

0855h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Trying to use twitter for just any one thing is part of the problem people are going to have with it. The thing that saves any new site/application which may initially seem like it has limited use is if people pick it up and really push what it can do - the IM, the microblog, the … whatever!

If people try and pigeonhole it as one thing & it’s not something they want to use it for, they’re forced to write it off. Sucks to be them!

Scott G
0913h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Twitter is the beast I struggle with…

I don’t like it. I think it’s useless and lacks substance, yet you will find my checking it and commenting at least once a day.

Why can’t I either abstain or simply embrace it? I don’t know, but something makes me roll my eyes when I see a long list of trivial, yet interesting snippets from everyone’s lives.

Twitter, stop toying with my emotions.

Ben Buchanan
0941h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

I think people enter into most services with their eyes shut - few people seem to realise that it actually takes work to maintain a blog or website, for example; fewer still realise that it’s public as in “you are telling this to your mum/boss/enemy”. It never ceases to amaze me when people post their innermost thoughts online, then act surprise when people go ahead and read it.

Twitter has a lower cost of entry but requires care and feeding afterwards… reminds me of people I knew that got addicted to tamagotchis ;)

1048h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Gary, your comment “it’s still funny encountering people that just don’t get it with twitter” really grates with me. There are sooo many people that say to me “you just don’t get it” when I talk about my dislike of twitter, as if I’m too stupid to understand it rather than I’ve given it a fair trial and decided it’s useless for me.

Maybe it’s a geek thing but there is a defence of twitter that is usually in the form of assuming that if you don’t like it you don’t get it.

I get it. I just despise it.

1050h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Lach, by the way - ” Technology offers no solutions for how to let someone know that you don’t want them to see your tweets.

This is both exclusive and excluding. It leads to bruised feelings and hurt comments, creating pain on both sides. Reminds me of adolescence…”

Boo-fucken-hoo. Take a spoon and start digging into that tin of harden-up.


Lisa H
1155h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

I agree with cheryl’s last comment.

it’s simply passive aggressive school yard bullying to get upset when another user doesn’t want to share personal information by going public (on twitter).

If I wanted to stand in the middle of the playground with a megaphone and communicate that way I would. but it’s not the way I talk normally.

If I want to converse with my close peeps in private, then I will. get over it.

There may be a fine line between exclusive, excluding and private, but there is a line and I’ll decide who I feel comfortable with, and when.

I’ve never had anyone come up to me and demand that I talk to them, or make them my friend in the physical world,so why is it acceptable online…?

It isn’t.

This happened to me 20 minutes after I started using twitter, can you believe that? 20 minutes! I hadn’t even learnt to use the damn app and people were bitching about me behind my back.

This week I went public to see how that would go no surprises, I got pounced on by a whole lot of people I don’t know, so last night I changed back to pvt.

I’ll use it as long as it’s useful, and that’s all.

1303h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

I’m cranky I can’t change my display name - I’m sick of people referring to me as “purecaffeine” !! That’s not my name!!! ARGH!! :-)

Cameron Adams
1317h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

If you really want people to keep track of you, I think Dodgeball is a far more apt app:

But it hasn’t seem to have gotten much traction outsides of the States.

I think Twitter abandoned the concept of “where are you?” ages ago, it’s now just a networked forum, without the threads.

1320h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Cam how long have you been waiting to use “apt app” in a sentence?

1325h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

@Lach: Fair enough mate :-)

Congrats on the strike rate of comments per post by the way, pretty good for a noob! I’d say it was beginner’s luck, but I have a feeling that there are some other discussion-worthy (read:controversial) topics floating around in your head. Look forward to them!

Gary Barber
1349h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

@Lisa H, Bet if you changed your avatar to a generic non female pic and screen names to something non feminine you wouldn’t have been pounced on. Which is sad, I know. That said its one of the reasons I went private.

@Cheryl, I’m talking about people that have not even looked at twitter for one second, so they are looking at it abstractly. It’s like trying to explain Myspace (which I have no time for at all) I guess. I would consider you outside of this type of group IMHO. Generally these people look at it with the aims of “what can I get out of this for free”, they tend to blog only for marketing profitability, same with forum posts, its all about profit and ROI for them.

@Cameron A - I didn’t think Dodegball was setup for international use?

Lachlan Hardy
1704h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

Apparently not everyone is as tough as you, Chez :)

Lisa, I couldn’t agree more. Folks still have to learn how to behave. Given how much trouble some people have in the real world, is it any wonder we’re still having difficulties with socialisation online?

Nathanael, actually you can. Just change your username. The issue is that Twitter doesn’t offer 301s or 302s so any non-system links to your tweets will break because you’ve changed your URL. That’s a bummer, but I’d say they’re keeping their potential for usernames as open as possible.

Cam, that’s because Dodgeball is US-specific. The system doesn’t allow for international. In fact, it only officially supports 22 cities - I don’t know yet if US mobile owners can still use it effectively outside those 22 locations or if it’s crippled. But I do know that I can’t sign up without a US number.

Matty, I reckon it might be the thrill of the new. Folks will soon realise I don’t know what I’m doing ;)

Mr Speaker
1741h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

{Hmmm… I typed this awready, but i think it borked because I has JS switched off or somethin’}

“Taking pretty photos and posting them every day takes effort. Posting a well-thought-through blog post takes effort, and doing so regular even more so. But rattling off 140 characters of randomness takes next to no effort”

I think that is either truly missing the point of twitter, or truly over-valuing blogs and flickr. Twitter is EXACTLY as crap as blogs and flickr - it just uses less bandwidth.

Almost all blog posts are painfully mediocre attempts at insight, and almost all flickr photos are painfully mediocre attempts at art.

No body is stopping you from writing insightful and beautiful twitters. Perhaps stream-of-consciousness just isn’t your medium?

Lachlan Hardy
2223h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

That reminds me of Andrew Tetlaw’s awesome steampunk posts. When he changed over from typical usage to fantastical story-telling, he made his Twitterstream into something beautiful.

2309h Wednesday, 04 April 2007 Permalink

“Almost all blog posts are painfully mediocre attempts at insight, and almost all flickr photos are painfully mediocre attempts at art.”

Dude, I think we’re reading different blogs and viewing different flickr streams.

“No body is stopping you from writing insightful and beautiful twitters. Perhaps stream-of-consciousness just isn’t your medium?”

‘Beautiful twitters’ is an oxymoron. The entire twitter site is full of nonsense. Not to say it’s not fun, but don’t try and make more of it than is there.

Mr Speaker
1029h Thursday, 05 April 2007 Permalink

So truly over-valuing blogs and flickr it is then. When I said “almost all” I actually meant “absolutely all”. I just didn’t want to generalise ;)

How is someone’s mundane (one sentance) rendition of their trip to the coffee shop any worse than someone’s mundane (three page) rendition of their trip to SxSW? For example? It’s not twitter’s fault if the people you are following can’t write interesting content. That’s like blaming your RSS reader for crap blog posts. Some people adapt to the medium well, others get 2 of their friends commenting per post.

It’s just a tool, and I think that’s why the social implications Lachlan mentions aren’t so great. People are going to write stupid crap that comes back to bite them on the arse - no matter what technology they use.

Lisa H
1255h Thursday, 05 April 2007 Permalink

is reading this post, enjoying it heaps.

1019h Saturday, 07 April 2007 Permalink

“It’s not twitter’s fault if the people you are following can’t write interesting content.”

It’s my view that 140 characters is not enough space to write something substantial, and that is a difference between blogs and twitter that cannot be ignored. We may have to agree to disagree, but until you send me a URL for someone’s twitter stream that you value highly enough to recommend everyone follow, I’m not going to spend my time searching high and low for quality twitters.

So twitter might be a bit of fun and great for friends to keep tabs on each other. I won’t argue with that. But please stop trying to convince me that twitter is anything more than that without giving any examples.

Lisa H
1707h Tuesday, 10 April 2007 Permalink

I certainly use it to keep tabs on Lachlan… shhh don’t tell!

1715h Tuesday, 10 April 2007 Permalink

Actually I do think there is one good thing about twitter that is a use for which it wasn’t intended…

You can tell someone has had an emotional meltdown and twittered something they shouldn’t have when they delete their twitter account and disappear.

Sends me straight to google to find out what the meltdown was all about.

So there, I do agree with you Lachlan, Twitter does have one good use.

0008h Thursday, 12 April 2007 Permalink

ahhhhh twitter. you pose some very interesting questions. makes me very glad you are blogging (in addition to your twits and flicks).

i completely agree with cameron…that dodgeball is sooooooooo much better for locating where people are. the use of twitter during sxsw to find people made me ache for us all to be in dodgeball…but alas…dodgeball isn’t international friendly enough yet…and so twitter did a valiant job of helping friends find friends. I love it any time technology helps bring people closer together.

for me, a person who enjoys living my life (for the most part) out loud…twitter fills a nice gap between what is worthy of a blog post, or ideally communicated with a photo. you see twitter is that one line thought…nothing more nothing less.

so i choose public, friend only people i already know, and try to make more than 50% of my twitter post something that is worthy of sharing (potential to inspire or make a meaningful connection with friends).

i’ll end with a thought that craig cook shared with me…and that is…twitter (can possibly) keep us more closely connected (virtually) so the next time we meet…there is more depth to friendships.

1608h Wednesday, 25 April 2007 Permalink

Being VERY green regarding most things web you may not be suprised to hear that I have never visited Twitter.

Having said that, I really enjoyed reading your post and feel educated and informed about the possible risks associated with personal information posted in a public arena.

My guess is that the majority of people using this style of technology do not have anywhere near the knowledge or forethought that those posting here do (particularly to do with permanent Google history).

Thanks for your insight Lachy!

1234h Sunday, 29 April 2007 Permalink

maybe an option to have public turned on, but a robots.txt generated which disallows indexing would be the best of both worlds.

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