Twitter is circling the drain and we pulled the plug.

31 May

USE #YYJ FOR VICTORIA! screamed a veteran twitter user at a stumbling fawn stepping gingerly into the raging torrent of tweets.
This, for me, was the point when Twitter lost the final vestiges of dignity and innocence, becoming the anti-social monster that it is today.

In the early days, Twitter was joyously simple. An exciting forum of discovery and interaction and a genuine social network, but that didn’t last long.

Businesses came, sniffing out the promise of cheap/free marketing. There was a sense that this was the holy grail of marketing; a tool that empowered businesses to establish personal marketing channels with customers for next to no cost. You could ditch your traditional advertising and marketing, save money and grow your business. Predictably, Twitter followed the path of the tranquil and charming getaway, ruined by glowing magazine articles and word of mouth. Now, it’s broadcast media, the screamer on the daily paper, it’s the tv newsflash, the spam email, its not social.

Is it really that bad? Well towards the end of last year I asked the community if they knew a place to hire a mini excavator for some (serious) weeding. No recommendations, but I did get 4 Excavator sales companies autofollow me within seconds offering leasing and easy finance.

I voiced this take on Twitter in Doug’s post on automated tweets, and in the resulting comments he suggested examining a Twitter stream to find the social tweets. So I did just that. Reckoning that local users might be looking for local tweets I sampled an hour of tweets containing the #yyj hashtag on Friday 27/05/2011. There were 98 tweets. So of those 98 tweets, how many were inviting discourse and would satisfy the notion that Twitter is a social networking tool?

One. Yes, one. Accompanied by three others that weren’t actually seeking discourse, but were at least open or community minded (click the graphic above to see the community tweets).
Those four were almost completely drowned out by an endless foghorn of tweets grandstanding, boasting, demanding RTs, hocking, selling & promoting.

So who’s to blame, well us. When Twitter opened the doors and set its creation free we invented tools to filter and analyse streams, measure every possible metric and correlation, milk every last drop of insight and relevance. It provided everyone with an ego or an agenda – and I include myself here – a soapbox.

It’s only now that I’m seeing people who have no crossover in their everyday lives with social technology, start to turn up on Twitter. Are they going to find a world of discourse and discovery? How long will they post those frank and unguarded opinions before they realise that every word is being and analysed, their value to marketers is being assessed and they are being filtered and ranked by their receptance to offers. And perversly, whether their influence deems them important enough to listen to if they complain?

So can Twitter be saved? Does it even need saving? Topics for a following post.


19 Responses to “Twitter is circling the drain and we pulled the plug.”

  1. GV May 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Found a interesting article you should read or have read already. How Online Advertising Turned Media Into a Race to the Lowest Common Denominator [] I know it has noter per se to do with twitter, yet, maybe tomorrow.

  2. tom hammarberg May 31, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Thank for the comment GV,
    I hadn’t read that particular article, but I agree with the gist of it. The e-how (website) low quality /high volume approach may get better traffic, but there’s no sense of connection or relationship with which the early vision for the web, and indeed Twitter, was conceived.

  3. dougbrowncreative May 31, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read about Twitter Tom. Brilliant. Depressing and brilliant.

  4. janis la couvée June 1, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    Thanks for the post Tom. As the community has grown, I have found it harder and harder to keep up. I’m not sure if it’s “us” that is killing Twitter, or the limitations of the platform itself.

    For instance, I cannot simply list everyone who lives in Victoria in one list (they top out at 500) and I am only allowed 20 lists (they were gone the day I was able to have lists).

    Re-arranging all that is tedious at best, and perhaps pointless.

    I continue to be grateful for the community I have built online and will look for ways to improve not only my experience but also that of others. I’m most definitely open to discussion and suggestions.

    Thank you again for writing the article.

  5. tom hammarberg June 1, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Doug – Thank you, I’ll try and make them a little more frequent than bi-annual 😉

    Janis – Congrats on being one of the 4 ‘true’ tweeters in my 1 hour sampling. As for the post, it may seem a little bleak, but as I intend to discuss in a follow-up post, Twitter has a multitude of uses that aren’t necessarily social, all of which are equally valuable. It’s just the definition of Twitter as primarily a social network, that doesn’t ring true with me any more. Thank you for the comment.

  6. Que Banh June 1, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    This is a great blog post about the changing Twitter tides. Personally, I feel overwhelmed sometimes by Twitter & social media in general although I do love technology. That said, I’ve always been more of a face to face networker; see social media as just an extenstion & extra networking resource. But I don’t like to use Twitter to “sell” anything; it really annoys me when people just tweet the same sales pitch over and over again.

    I value real interations whether they be online or offline. Truly want to get to know the people I’m connected with. It is very important to me to take the time to meet people in person as much as possible.

  7. Elizabeth Wellburn June 1, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Tom, I notice that the Fernwood Pole Painting tweet was not included as one of the four “true” tweets but was instead in your rejected list. That was a genuine community event of interest to many in #yyj and it involved a lot of social interaction. So I’m suggesting that criteria varies.

    That being said, yes, Twitter is changing. But I wouldn’t call it an anti-social monster.

  8. tom hammarberg June 1, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Elizabeth – My criteria was admittedly quite stringent. I was looking for tweets that were actively inviting discussion, or assisting people with info.

    There were a few tweets that were promoting community events, including the Fernwood Pole Painting, but as these were using Twitter as a broadcast platform, rather than a social platform, for me, they didn’t qualify. That’s not to say they weren’t laudable community efforts of course.

    The overarching premise, for me, is that for those new to Twitter and who know absolutely nothing about it, which is the majority of the population, I can’t imagine that they are going to get past the torrent of broadcasting and see the magic that is in danger of being swallowed.
    thank you for the comment

    Que Banh – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Twitter is a support tool and isn’t suitable for that all important first contact in most cases. Thank you

  9. janis la couvée June 1, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    I’m in agreement with Elizabeth. Not that I could see all the rejected tweets but I would include event postings by Monday Magazine (and others) as community tweets.

  10. Tom Hammarberg June 1, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Just a little clarification. I was looking for social tweets, not necessarily community tweets. Twitter has proven to be a wonderful tool for charities and non-profits to get the word out at little to no cost.

  11. Cheryl June 1, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Great article. I am a heavy user of Twitter — managing multiple accounts in addition to my personal one — and completely agree that hashtags are used more often for evil than for good. The #yyj hashtag could have been a ridiculously useful search tool but I find it frequently cluttered with spam. I don’t mind the event listings though and like Elizabeth notes above, wouldn’t count them as “not inviting interaction” it’s just that the interaction they invite is in the real-world, not the Matrix. What bothers me are the people who send an @ reply of the same “offer” to a half dozen or more people and tag each one with #yyj.

    One way to control the overload is to re-tweet using the “old” method which allows you to modify the message, including stripping out hashtags as needed (because nothing clutters a stream quicker than 10 simultaneous retweets of the same message!)

    Is Twitter still a social network? I say yes. I follow fewer people than follow me, and I would guess that about 1/3 of them regularly engage with me in conversations. Many of the people I met through Twitter are local and are people I’d probably not have met any other way.

    Are we killing Twitter? Maybe, but if we are it is only due to the limitations of the platform as Janis mentioned above. I think there’s still room for Twitter to grow and it will continue to evolve, as will every other social network.

  12. Mike DeWolfe June 1, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    The problem is the core technology and how the Internet is set-up. Email thrives and is pernicious. True too about the Web– you can knock down a web server and clog up traffic, but the Internet persists.

    I wrote about this a few months ago:

    Basically, the two big players (Twitter and Facebook) have replaced protocols with websites. Twitter is a website and a way for other websites to connect through an API (like Hootsuite does). Instead of being decentralized like email, SMS or web traffic, Twitter is a choke point. Worse that that, it’s a choke point that has a poor chance of being monetized to the extent that Google and Facebook can be.

    If there could be a Twitter 2.0, it would have to behave like Bittorrent: make a little doodad in our desktop corner or our iPhone to hold our posts, negotiate with the web, bring in our feeds and re-try when the 2.0 Fail Whale surfaces. When Twitter turns out the lights all of our posts will disappear. If this were more like Outlook or your phone’s list of SMS messages, if could be decentralized and survive market conditions, hack attacks and investor attention spans.

  13. tom hammarberg June 1, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Cheryl & Mike – There is indeed enourmous value to be found in Twitter, but it takes experience, learning and patience to find it and get past the clutter. And as Mike astutely notes, Twitter is the choke point.
    As the creator of Tweetdeck mentioned in a phone interview Tweetdeck (and other apps) are used by the experienced power users. There’s little or nothing to assist the virgin Tweeter. perhaps this accounts for the huge number of dormant accounts with a single or no tweets?

    thank you both for you comments.

  14. Janice Mansfield June 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Where do I start! This is indeed timely discussion of the topic given the number of people I’ve encountered in recent months who are afraid to get on twitter because it seems so complicated. Also puts me in mind of a conversation on twitter about a year ago wherein a local person felt the #yyj etiquette was being forced, and suggested that for her (and others), it might not be as intuititive or desirable way of labelling the local socialsphere as the gatekeepers may have assumed.
    By labelling, we control, and by controlling, we wield power, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and that influences perception, sometimes with negative consequences. I would argue that stringent “rules” around how twitter is used may be excluding the very segments of our community we are seeking to engage.
    Twitter by its very nature is a chaotic, conversational medium, not a chamber business mixer, and to use it to its full advantage, we shouldn’t be forcing it to be something its not. Just my 2c worth

  15. Derek Ford June 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Reality. Check.

  16. tom hammarberg June 2, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Janice – The character limit is the cause. It’s driven the evolution of hashtags and other space savings devices – RT/FF/text abbreviations/ Bitly links (from a usability perspective, these are horrible as there is no suggestion of where the link will take the user). As we squeeze more uses out of Twitter, we’re going to see more of these abbreviations.
    It’s easy to see how someone new to Twitter would be put off by the apparent need to learn a set of social rules and learn a new language before they can use it.
    Great comment, thank you!

  17. Bertha June 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Tom, I’m glad someone finally said it, and so well might I add. This is in my opinion your best post yet.

    I think Twitter has become what it is today because it has attracted a large number of people/businesses who only care about promoting themselves and give others a good rub just so they can benefit from reciprocity.

    When it boils down to it, even the little guys are playing the same game. Just think about when you first joined and you were desperately trying to gain followers, what did you do, retweet, praise, and promote other peeps’ tweets.

    And what’s even worse, the other tweeps that just want to talk nonsense and tell us what their eating and thinking.

    With this all said, I do believe there are a few, very few, number of people who are genuine about helping others, or who tweet content that made them laugh or shocked or inspired them. This is the gravy.

    Are we killing twitter? We’ll that’s just the chicken and the egg game. By the way… it was the bloody egg that came first. Twitter’s design has inhibited it from becoming anything more than this senseless petting, mindless jabbering game. The anti-social network that keeps you lock in your home with your eyes glued to your monitor and your head down in your iphone over lunch.

    I say good day to you Twitter.

  18. tom hammarberg June 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Thank you for the comment Bertha – Twitter used to ask What are you Doing? It was always intended to be light-hearted and frivolous, some would say banal. Giving us the freedom to dictate its evolution brought incredible growth and, conversely, the freedom to abuse it.
    Twitter’s recent purchase of Tweetdeck suggest they may be looking to close the doors, apply some control and make money from their creation. A by-product could be some order restored to the Twitterverse, and hopefully, allow new and veteran tweeps to get more of the gravy.

  19. Bertha June 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    huh. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds.

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