The Twitters

Published 17 years, 4 months past

After a couple of months of fairly determined avoidance, I finally joined Twitter a week ago.  I’m already thinking about leaving.  Have been for the last six days, in fact.

There are two easily-explained reasons why I want to just walk away.  The first is that in order to have a public comment stream and also be able to share more private messages with my friends, I have to have two accounts.  If I could post friends-only messages to an otherwise public account, then I’d only need one account.

And why would I use a public commentary service for private information?  Because it is a very good way of keeping my friends informed of where I am, where I’ll be headed next, what’s happening in my family life, and so on.  That’s not public information, to my mind.  Using Twitter is a lot easier than setting up a private blog to distribute the same information.  (Side note: if you had a friendship request with me declined, this is why.  No, I don’t hate you.)

The second reason is that I don’t have a way to filter out people who are swamping my Twitter stream.  Yes, I’m very glad that you have so much to say, but you’re burying the other people who are just as interesting but not quite so loquacious, obsessive, or just plain bored.  In my current short list of friends, I have two that are, um, extra-expressive.  (Both women, in fact.  No comment?)  I want these people to remain friends so they can get my updates, infrequent though they may be.  I also want to see what the rest of my friends and followed are saying.  How to resolve it?

Sadly, “leave” only filters their stuff out of phone and IM updates, neither of which I use.  It doesn’t take them out of the RSS feed nor the web view, both of which I use.  Is the solution to de-friend them and let them just follow me?  Sure, for the public account.  For the private personal-info account, that solution fails; they’ll stop getting my updates.  I just wish there was a way to say “this person is my friend, but I’d only like to get updates from them through the following services”.  That way I could set the chatterers to show up in the web view and nothing else, thus restoring some sense of balance and diversity to my RSS feed and thus to Twitterific.

Then there’s the bonus reason I want to throw the whole thing into my bit-bucket:  the way people are using Twitter right now, it’s rapidly becoming the most inefficient and unusable version of IRC ever.  Look, people, if you want to chat, then get a chat room.  You know?

I know, Twitter is new and growing.  Feature sets and social conventions are still in flux and expected to evolve.  Personally, I feel like there’s the kernel of a really good service in there, only not quite the one they’re offering.  I’m not saying Twitter is useless or somehow wrong: it clearly provides something that some people want, and it does what it does fairly well.  I just have the sense that there’s a similar service with a different focus that would provide something that some other people want, myself among them.  Anyone else feel the same way?

Comments (37)

  1. “Personally, I feel like there”s the kernel of a really good service in there, only not quite the one they”re offering.”

    I have to agree to that. I like the idea of micro updates, especially by tying that into websites with a simple API – but the system just doesn’t seem to cope with ‘conversations’, which is what it’s getting (ab)used for. The ability to ‘tag’ people for different filter treatment sounds nice to me.

  2. Anyone else feel the same way?


    I’ve already dropped some people as friends because they, um, well, they just talked too much. I also am tiring of seeing one part of a conversation and no way to find the other pieces.

    For these reasons, I now only visit the twitter page once a day to scan what has been said. It’s more than enough.

  3. @Eric: *nods*


    It does at times feel like a really inefficient IRC channel, but at the same time I also think it is more efficient is some ways – notably eliminating the segregation via “topic of interest” that most IRC channels have and simply getting all the loosely connected people together in the same place. I have cringed a few times at my own habit of falling into chatting and I think using it via IM as I do tends to encourage that more then the web interface.

  4. Hear, hear. I’ve been using Twitter for several months now, and recently resorted to the ‘defriending’ path to keep my twitterific feed in check. I’m down to a very small friend list but still would need much more fine-grained control over how I recieve updates from specific friends to keep the signal-to-noise ratio manageable.

    The ‘@Foo’ conversational meme is also getting tiring- I’m recieving way too many messages without any broader context lately. The line between broadcasted IM (group chat) and twitter (microupdates) has become far too blurry- Twitter’s a compelling service in principle, but I also find myself tiring quickly of it’s shortcomings and growing pains.

  5. Not having used Twitter, I’m operating from a position of ignorance, but perhaps they could offer a way to “throttle” users. Like “for the RSS stream, I only want to see an update once per [hour|day] from Joe”, sort of like joining an email list in digest mode.

  6. I, too, have joined Twitter only a few days ago. And since I didn’t know anyone else with a twitter account, I’ve just been publishing messages privately.

    I just added you in Twitter as a friend and I know see what you mean. Your suggestion would probably work best, being able to tick the places updates from a certain person should show up.

    I have hopes though. Twitter is quite young and it’s entirely possible that features like this get added in the future.

  7. Yep, I feel the exact same way. It continues to amaze me the amount of people who say things like “doin stuff” and “sun’s out today” etc/etc/etc. I understand the need to say only marginally more meaningful things like “going to the 75th Street Alehouse” in the odd chance that someone is hoping/looking to meet someone else there, but the *pure* thought vomit I don’t understand.

    The only thing I think Twitter does really well right now is input. And they do it really, *really* well. It’s the simplest, most versatile way to put information online ever invented… and that’s saying something. By IM, by web, or by phone… inputting into Twitter is always a few keystrokes away. Where they will take that, I have no idea, but it’s enough to make you think possible future good thoughts about it.

  8. Snook feels that it also traps you into talking in third person.

    When I do follow it, mostly for five minute reads every now and then, it can be a handy way to get really up to date and even “behind-the-scenes” kinda info. A little clique-ish and definitely hard to follow conversations, especially when you’re only following half the people in the conversation.

  9. I think my comment got eaten. :(

    (Akismeted. Sorry! It’s back now. –E.)

  10. I agree on many points (and I’ve talked at length elsewhere); Twitter definitely needs the option to post public and private updates for a start. Per-friend update options would also be good, I don’t have my mobile enabled since so few of my twitter friends are actually local – so why would I need to get their updates while out and about?

    As for chat vs. updates… IRC is ok but Twitter just seems easier. You don’t need an extra bit of software and you don’t get netsplits, for example. Plus it looks nicer than IRC (not to be overlooked). Maybe IRC needs a Web2.0MFG facelift ;)

    I can think of three ways that Twitter could combat the chat issue:
    1) Get people to stick to the original idea of “what am i doing right now” updates. I mention it since it’s the moral highground option but I don’t think it will work, you can’t fight human nature. Cowpaths are being created…
    2) Let people nominate which posts are actual status updates and which ones are chatter. Which is a long way from the original idea; and requires people to tag or prefix updates. But, I think it might be a feasible option (note feasible not wonderful).
    3) Add a online/offline status widget and connect that to a webchat. So people who are online can chat without flooding the update stream. Probably not in their original charter but it would be a way for people to “get a (chat) room” without leaving twitter.

    Perhaps people slip into IRC mode because Twitter is (theoretically) just like IRC restricted to nothing but /me statements :) On IRC people used them fairly sparingly. Doesn’t explain the habit amongst people who twitter but never irc’d.

  11. Nice to see your thoughts on this. I’ve been suppressing my personal reaction to twitter…which so far has been…”this is mostly noise and I really don’t like noise”.

    Rather than just blow off twitter…I decided to play the game, but at a much lower level than some of the more chatty folks.

    So far…I’ve only found 2 valuable pieces of information in twitter posts…info that helped me discover something new…or triggered a conversation with a colleague on a topic I didn’t know they were interested in.

    It is an interesting experiment. I think this version of it isn’t refined enough to be a real homerun. But it does have the potential to morph into something more than just the electronic water cooler.

  12. Twitter does have some disadvantages for sure. I agree with the point that seeing only one half of a conversation is frustrating. Someone (who is my friend) is talking to one of their friends who is NOT a friend of mine. They are saying stuff to others that I have no clue about so I go to their profile, check who their friends are and then look up their tweets. Yep, that’s a bummer.

    I do have to say however that I think you guys are taking Twitter far more seriously than it was originally intended to be. The whole point of Twitter (as I understood it anyway) was to allow people to post the expression of what they are doing or feel like or just ‘being’ at any given moment. So you only update once per day and one of your friends updates once every five minutes. Don’t like it? Stop following them. They want to post frequently, so I say let them. Others might be interested in what they have to say.

    I find a great deal of the fun of Twitter is just browsing all the posts that go to the public feed. They spawn whole lines of thinking and are fascinating to watch develop. I also enjoy going back in Twitterific when I wake up and see what my friends tweeted while I was asleep.

    I’m sure this will all grow old eventually, but for now its just good plain fun. Enjoy it and relish in the fact that you are present at the birth of a new form of web communication. It may not become much in the grand scheme of things, or it may turn into the next Digg. That’s the beauty of it, we just don’t know yet.

  13. Gedeon: I think the reason we’re (or I’m) taking this so seriously is that there is, as I said, the promise of something more compelling in there. I haven’t figured out how to get from here to there, though, so a spot of kvetching will have to suffice for now.

    Also, the advice to “stop following them” doesn’t quite work if I want to continue giving them access to my private posts. If I want them to see my posts, I have to friend them, which means I get their updates via RSS and the web interface. I have yet to find a way to turn that off. So I’m left with the choice of keeping them on and wading through the noise, or giving them the boot, which feels a bit like saying, “Since you won’t shut up, I won’t be your friend!”.

    Yeah, I think about this sort of thing.

    Sure, Twitter was meant to be in-the-moment, but it’s clearly not being used that way any more, so I think it’s only natural that people are complaining and thinking aloud about how it might be different or better.

  14. I’m curious as to why you think someone would still want your private posts if you do not want theirs? Dones’t there have to be some kind of mutual consent thing going on here? I don’t think you can say to one of your friends “what I have to say is great, but you talk too much”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improvements I’m just sayin’ is all…

  15. Eric, I apologize. It seems as if the guys at Twitter have thought of the same potential scenarios, hence the “leave” feature. The problem I guess is that leaving only applies to Phone and IM messages and not the web (which is probably what your original beef was in the first place, so I’m dumb, leave me alone!).

    It seems that if the “leave” command was extended to include web posts, this would cover what you are requesting, no? I suppose there would be instances when the flow of tweets in one direction only would be desirable. I stand corrected.

  16. I feel the same way you do, I just wish that I had come up with your thoughts a little sooner. I kinda got caught up in the “chat room” effect for a little while (since it was so easy to update and get updates via IM).

    But, then I realized that it was as much a time-waster, if not more so, than using instant messenger in the first place.

    I’d like to use it to keep everyone in my company up-to-date with project details though. Little more interesting than say an email, or RSS feed.

  17. Dude, the whole “women talk more than men” thing was debunked sometime before Usenet.

  18. Ximena–

    I thought it was debunked by Usenet.

  19. The whole “women are a lot touchier about perceived slights” thing would seem to still be going strong, though.

  20. You could always subscribe to each user’s RSS feed and let your aggregator do all the work.

    Granted, that doesn’t help Twitteriffic any, and I don’t know if that would work with private updaters, even if they are your friend (no authenticated feeds offered.

  21. As I must be one of the two twitches mentioned in this post, please note that I am happy to a). still be on Eric’s friend list despite my chatty nature and b). really not concerned if people leave me off any list if they find my chatter too . . . chattery. Twitter is a tool, and as such, people wield it differently. I agree with Eric on limitations and usage. An ability to have more filtering control would improve the concerns raised, allowing chatty folks like me to be ourseives while our less chatty companions can still use the tool effectively without having to wade through our chatter.

    I think I’ll go and twitter some now.

  22. i heart twitter, and i’m glad it doesn’t have a bunch of restrictions or a heap of extra features. it’s light, simple, fun, and it can be used for so many purposes! i think the service you are looking for will come… more restrictive, more feature heavy… since there is only really dodgeball and twitter so far, i’m sure a flood of similar services is just around the corner.

  23. The reason I don’t use Twitter much is the way people use it. If people really used it to update their STATUS a few times a day, I’d probably love it. but using it as a chat room? No thanks. I’ve already go IRC and IM open all day. I don’t need another chatroom, thank you very much.

  24. I think maybe the solution I’d like best is an AIM/Jabber client that kept track of changes to my contacts’ status/away messages over time.

    Or – so I wouldn’t miss historical changes during times I wasn’t logged in – the ability to query an AIM/Jabber contact’s status change history.

    Because I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that Twitter is really just away messages in a slightly decoupled and less perfectly implemented format.

  25. Great complaints, I hope Twitter takes them to heart. Given how new it is, it seems like they’re waiting to hear feedback like this before jumping in any one direction. These truly would be great feautres that a service like Twitter needs.

  26. I agree with you on quite a few things. I’d love twitter to have some kind of grouping mechanism and ways to direct message, folllow and filter out by groups. One thins I do like Twitter for is the chatting aspect, as chaotic and over the top as it might be. I don’t use IM much, mainly because people always want to chat when I’m busy. Twitter allows me to jump in when I feel like it and turn it off when I dont. But I also see how that noise can really ruin it’s other, intended uses…

    Ah, anyway, right now I don’t see Twitter as anything more than a bit of fun now and again, but could see how it could be seriously useful with lots more refinement.

  27. I’m a fan of Twitter, I admit it. I enjoy following the public conversations from time to time — not really “following” but just being continually amazed at the answers that people have for the question, “What are you doing?” Remember: It’s not Chat. It’s not IM. It’s something a little different. It’s a public stream of consciosuness, which is difficult to grasp at first. Sort of a soapbox with a bunch of maniacs saying all sorts of things, but in this case, you can separate what everybody’s saying.

    Ken, Twitter Submitter author (

  28. I’m not touchy about perceived slights because I’m a woman. I’m touchy about perceived slights because I’m a paranoid narcissist. If I were male, I’d still be a paranoid narcissist.

    Heck, if I were an artichoke, I’d probably still be a paranoid narcissist. But at least then I’d be edible.

    I’m touchy about cowpie linguistics ’cause I’m a linguist. That’s a whole other topic.

  29. I suspect that for those who love Twitter (me!), this public/private dichotomy that pervades this thread and comment stream no longer applies. The fascination of Twitter is something like the fascination of reality tv and livejournals and myspace.

  30. Test.

    (As requested by me—trying to debug some trouble. –E.)

  31. Twitter is as good as how your friends use it. I think most of the issues mentioned are social ones, not technical ones.

    I love the service if no other reason than I can jot down something via IM and pow, it pops up at the top of my blog like a micro-post. And so far, most of my small list of friends use it in a socially aware way.

  32. The first time I heard about Twitter was from Dan’s website.

    I tried it out, and I liked it.

    I think the whole “Twittr”;-) thing shouldn’t be taken too seriously — and I agree with the comment by Gedeon.

    Sometimes people have to share some important info (“X going to the pub at Five corners to drink a pint of ale”, or “Y just discovered a two-line CSS solution for making IE6 showing alpha PNGs correctly”) …and sometimes, people share common things like “drinking coffee, reading email” – and the best part is, I think, that Twitter lets you do both, without marking your 140-characters-long-post in any way.

    The simplicity is what I like about it.

    Nothing too complicated. No tagging, no “Show last 5 posts by X and last 10 posts by Y”, nothing. Simply read a long list of one or two-line posts by people you have added, that’s it. Let others read what you have to say. Post when you want to. Once a day. Or once a week. Or 100 times a day.

    Maybe Twitter could be transformed into something more complicated, powerful, customizable… but I think we’ve had enough of these systems already, we are all over technoratied/digged/delicioused/tagged/blogged/pinged/rated/trackbacked/flickrd… So maybe something really simple will do fine, this time.

    Who knows:-)

    And maybe not, maybe Twitter will be transformed in lots of ways to suit us better, and will become one of the new things we can’t live without.

    Time will show.

    Now heading for Twitter to twitter about how I commented on Twitter:D

  33. I agree with Mr Nosuch on Twitter’s issues being more social than technical. I treat it as a form of entertainment.

    For Twitter to be a more efficient social information tool, users must have finer control over their feeds, say through a client side filter for RSS like Proximitron for HTTP. With a few lines of perl code one could customize their feeds beyond the default blunt rules. (IRC 2.0?)

  34. i have to admit that i am guilty of being a twitter-flooder, but not with conversation (i also think that many twitterers should just get a chat room!). i’m sure i’ve been defriended because of the quantity of my trivial status updates. on the other hand, i wish that everyone else twittered as much as i do :) i LIKE the idea of a constant flow of whatever crosses people’s minds, rather than just what they might think is ‘important.’ i’m probably in the minority with that, though…

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  36. here in our place in germany nearly nobody knows twitter. i´ve got an account there for some days now. the concept ist very interesting. if the site works depends on the behaivour of the users. If they use it for conversations instead of posting their status, it might change in an wrong direction.

  37. It´s interesting to see that even after 7 years since the last comment things haven´t really changed in our region (germany). Not many people use twitter even if it is very well known. The most people who use the application are quite young. Even today twitter has the same problems like above mentioned (bad control and so on).

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