Twitter  MAR 20 2007

As I mentioned the other day, I recently joined Twitter. I've been poking around its nooks and crannies ever since. Here are some observations, presented in Twitter-sized chunks:

Playing with Twitter reminds me of blogging circa 2000. Back then, all weblogs were personal in nature and most people used them to communicate with their friends and family. If I wanted to know what my friends were up to back then, I read their blogs. Now I follow Twitter (and Flickr and Vox).

The reaction to Twitter mirrors the initial reaction to weblogs...the same tired "this is going to ruin the web" and "who cares what you ate for dinner" arguments.

Also like blogs, everyone has their own unique definition of what Twitter is (stripped down blogs, public IM, Dodgeball++, etc.), and to some extent, everyone is correct. Maybe that's when you know how you've got a winner: when people use it like mad but can't fully explain the appeal of it to others. See also: weblogs, Flickr.

For people with little time, Twitter functions like an extremely stripped-down version of MySpace. Instead of customized pages, animated badges, custom music, top 8 friends, and all that crap, Twitter is just-the-facts-ma'am: where are my friends and what are they up to?

Twitter's like Flickr without the images.

When one thing (i.e. Twitter) is easier than something else (i.e. blogging) and offers almost the same benefits, people will use it.

Twitter brings back the "type words in one box and press submit" thing that made Blogger so popular back in the day. Compare with current blogging systems. To publish a post in MT, I've got to fiddle with 7-9 different text boxes and options. See immediately above.

Let's not forget Dodgeball here, which was used extensively at SXSW in 2006. (In other words, all the Twittering at SXSW 2007 was not unprecedented. Chill.) It's more focused on location and SMS though...by allowing updates in more ways and being more flexible about the type of message allowed, Twitter is attractive to a wider group of people.

If your friends are not on Twitter, I can't imagine it would be that interesting.

Twitterholic tracks the top 100 Twitter users in terms of followers. I know, let's not turn absolutely everything on the web into a popularity contest!! We already know Scoble is a big blowhard and has weak ties to lots of people...let's move on, shall we?

I wonder what the average number of followers per person is? The folks with 5 zillion followers get all the attention, but as with blogging, those posting updates for their 20 friends form the bulk of the activity.

Lists of friends and followers are presented alphabetically. Does Anil attract more friends, on average, than Veen because he always shows up near the top of the listings?

I can see why Obvious dropped Odeo for Twitter. With podcasts, you've got all that data locked up in binary format (no easy cut-and-paste) and it takes you 20 listening minutes before you can react to it (by commenting, by linking, etc.). With blogs, the reaction time to a post is 1-2 minutes, with Flickr it's 5 seconds, and Twitter is 2-3 seconds. The barrier to entry for reacting to and remixing podcasts is just so much higher.

Twitter is the first thing on the web that I've been excited about in ages. Like years. The last thing was probably Flickr. (Talk about burying the lede.) It's just so damn simple but useful. Again, reminds me of weblogs in that way.

If you're on a Mac and using Twitter, download Twitterific, a little app that sits on your desktop and displays updates from your friends. My only complaint: it doesn't completely show updates, forcing you to the web to read the last 2-3 words of a longish message. Come on...it's only 140 characters, show them all!

Twittermap displays recent Twitter messages on Google Maps. All you do is send Twitter a message with your location -- like so...the "L:10003" is the important part -- and Twittermap will pick it up.

Even more mesmerizing is Twittervision...a world tour of recent Twitter messages. Just sit back and watch the updates come in one at a time, displayed on a world map. (This is in beta and Twitter's having some downtime issues right now, so the data may be less than fresh when you go.)

Twitter seems to work equally well for busy people and not-busy people. It allows folks with little time to keep up with what their friends are up to without having to email and IM with them all day. Those with a lot of time on their hands can spend a lot of time finding new people to follow, having back-and-forths with friends all day, and updating their status 40 times a day. Too many web apps fail because they only appeal to those with abundant free time.

I'm fascinated to see where Obvious takes this app once they get their scaling issues under control.

The default display of recent messages plus your own messages is genius. Makes it feel more like a conversation. The "with friends" display is great too...perfect for discovering other people to follow.

"Friends" still isn't the right word.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Twitter   weblogs

There are 46 reader comments

Jason33 20 2007 2:33PM

Your comment "Twitter's like Flickr without the images" made me think of unphotographable.com. I agree that there is a place (or places) for Twitter on the net. I decided to abandon my own blog about a year ago due to time constraints preventing me from writing anything meaningful anymore. Posting short little blurbs on a blog just didn't feel write [sic]. I'm glad Twitter has filled this void whether people use it for that purpose or any number of others.

Ryan43 20 2007 2:43PM

The "group IM" thing I could do without (I don't need to read half of your conversation with someone else), but the "presence" aspect is really interesting to me. Thing is, people need to sort out what Twitter is before a business model can materialize, and in the meantime, Twitter seriously needs to scale. Waiting over 30 seconds to load a page that contains supposedly concise, text-only snippets is ridiculous. (Why isn't there a mobile version?) In the mean time, I'm seeing sites like Jaiku take "presence" further and more and more people talking about "lifestreams." Life as RSS!

Daniel46 20 2007 2:46PM

You're correct about Twitter not being to interesting unless several of your friends use it.

Most of my friends are still stuck back in Facebook, and several are starting to get into Virb.

I think I'll enjoy it more once I can talk some of my pals into trying it out - and when the site is consistently faster.

mattbucher52 20 2007 2:52PM

If I joined Twitter, all my updates would say "sitting at work, should be working" or "sitting at home." Damn. Maybe I should start some Twitter fiction.

dan56 20 2007 2:56PM

It's the first thing you've been excited about in ages and yet you just signed up yesterday? Come on man, you're suppose to be cooler than that.

LC00 20 2007 3:00PM

Fictitious Twitter members are the best. See: The Dark Lord of the Sith and his son.

ramanan00 20 2007 3:00PM

Twitter is incredibly boring if you don't have a bunch of friends in the system. No doubt there are things you can do on twitter that don't require your friends sign up -- you could use it for a lo-fi blog -- but it just doesn't seem as useful or as compelling when used in isolation. This isn't true of Flickr, which serves a very useful purpose ignoring the social aspects of the system.

Also, twitter.com is still far too slow.

jeff07 20 2007 3:07PM

What I like about Twitter is the invitation to describe physical action. Blogs are too frequently about "look what I saw!" or "here's what I think." Twitter juts into the realm of the bodily: here's where I'm sitting, and what I am doing. If I want to read what my friends are thinking, I'll read their blogs; when I want to know what they're doing, well, that's what Twitter is for.

Is there space for it? While other tools *could* do the same thing, none of them are built for it. Viva la Twitter, I say.

Jameson12 20 2007 3:12PM

My favorite part: "For people with little time, Twitter functions like an extremely stripped-down version of MySpace."

I don't have much time, but I've got to update my Twitter, blog, and/or Flickr page!!

Kylw15 20 2007 3:15PM

The Twitterific window is resizable!

jkottke33 20 2007 3:33PM

Come on man, you're suppose to be cooler than that.

Being cool is boring. Or as Stefan Sagmeister puts it, "trying to look good limits my life".

The Twitterific window is resizable!

So it is. I was pulling it taller and not wider. Still though, it would be better if you could just make the message area a little taller or something. Not that it's working at all right now...Twitter is just too damn slow during the day to be usable.

dan43 20 2007 3:43PM

Being cool is boring.

But you would have been enjoying the 'first thing you've been excited about in ages' for much longer (I was actually being sarcastic. It was cooler NOT joining, amirite? amirite?

And yes, twitter is almost dead during the day time. Pity.

cori46 20 2007 3:46PM

Windows Twitterers should try Twitteroo from RareEdge. Nice little interface.

Jeff Ventura54 20 2007 3:54PM

Jason,

Good observations, especially the parallels to blogging's early days.

I've written two pieces about Twitter on my blog, and the general upshot of both of them is that Twitter will evolve into something more mature with real usefulness/utility to people. Right now, it seems to be novelty, a very cool proof-of-concept and not much more. Twittervision, et al, are the shizzle in their own right, but novelty atop novelty.

Steve56 20 2007 3:56PM

It also waorks well for some us stranded at crappy jobs stuck behind firewalls that block most IM programs, but haven't caught wind of twitter yet. yet.

Mr. Nosuch17 20 2007 4:17PM

May I propose the "Evan Williams First Rule of the Internet": success can be your biggest problem.

Twitter reminds me of Blogger in that, while you love it, it's like an abusive spouse that you always make excuses for, in spite of it letting you down over and over and over.

I've been Twittering for awhile and find that while fast and easy are great, it quickly loses its shine when the darn thing is so overloaded and pokey that you can't log in, or your updates get eaten.

So yah, let's hope they fix those scaling issues, but I'm not holding my breath.

smackfu23 20 2007 4:23PM

You can tell how slow twitter is by how long you have to wait for evhead.com to load. About 60 secs of "waiting for twitter.com" at the moment. Beware adding the badge to your blog.

Alex Rudloff27 20 2007 4:27PM

From our stats..

"Average" Twitter User:
Followers: 17.5553
Friends: 15.1793
Updates: 104.3608
Favorites: 2.2171
Date: 3/19/07 Sample: 5828 active users
Source: Twitterholic.com

annie56 20 2007 4:56PM

I have very few friends on Twitter (because sadly, and I'm dating myself, most of my friends just smile and nod when I mention anything newer than email). I'm not really sure why I'm enjoying it so much, but I am. I'm wondering how long until it's overrun by pre-teens and spammers, though.

@LC, my favorite twitterer is SantaClaus. I'm pretty sure he's the real deal!

jkottke58 20 2007 4:58PM

Thanks, Alex. I thought the followers number might about 20 with the friends number a little lower. When Clay Shirky did his study of LiveJournal in (I believe) 2001/2002, he noted that the average LJer had 12 friends, and Twitter seems lightweight enough to support slightly more.

Eurylochus22 20 2007 5:22PM

Is it just me, or is the internet becoming more and more like passing notes in 7th grade?

I like the idea of fictitious folk, though.

Damn, I should have done UO in twitter.

john ratcliffe-lee29 20 2007 5:29PM

"jratlee: can see reasons for addiction to twitter. takes just enough time. that free time everyone has but say they don't. about 18 hours ago from web Icon_star_empty Icon_trash"

jamie martin53 20 2007 5:53PM

i don't get reception in my house so i have all the people who text me twitter me instead and i can chat from jabber to their cell phones through twitter, that's what i like about it the most. shame the IM bots haven't been online for me lately. :[

Gene38 20 2007 7:38PM

The reaction to Twitter mirrors the initial reaction to weblogs...the same tired "this is going to ruin the web" and "who cares what you ate for dinner" arguments.
Those reactions may be tired, but they were certainly on target. It is worth noting that the "who cares" argument was spot on: as you said yourself, " Back then, all weblogs were personal in nature and most people used them to communicate with their friends and family." And now, most weblogs are not that personal, and have evolved to communicate to a broader audience. They moved away from the "what you ate for dinner" milieu of their own volition because... wait for it... people didn't care about what other people ate for dinner. If blogs had remained what they were seven years ago, they certainly would not have taken the world by storm in such a lasting fashion.
Perhaps Twitter won't go belly up right away, but I am certain that something else shiny and new will come along to divert websters' attention soon enough. Meanwhile, enjoy yourself!

Azrael Brown48 20 2007 7:48PM

What twitter does is strip down the basics of internet communication to the barest minimum, and develops the API and format around it in a flexible and experimental way. I'd made something almost identical to Twitter back in 2000, with two blanks, but the same sort of limited functionality devoted to the barest of communication. It doesn't do anything but order the text on the screen, while twitter does a bunch of other neato Web2.0 stuff. It gives people the opportunity to experiment with how online communication can be twisted and manipulated, in ways that trying to do this with RSS feeds is too complicated. And, I echo the "you need friends to make it work" -- my site, despite a lot of early exposure (17 Magazine's website linked to me in 2001 -- w00t!) has just two or three 'clumps' of buddies that use it regularly; new users tend to fall away if they don't feel they have a known audience, which is a failing of blogs as well.

Oakley59 20 2007 7:59PM

Random fact for you all: twitter.com/jkottke was registered a few months ago by a hacker who used it to delete Anil Dash's Twitter account by taking advantage of a now-fixed XSS security hole in Twitter. The account was suspended by Twitter soon afterwards.

Alexandre29 20 2007 8:29PM

The guys at obvious are genius with the stunt they pulled at SWSX. The web is abuzz with everything twitter (especially today), it's friggin' nuts! I recall visiting the site a few months back and being all, "meh". But now I'm drinking the kool aid, and I haven't even signed up yet.

Ahh, the power of viral marketing.

stavrosthewonderchicken44 20 2007 8:44PM

Not for nothing do you invoke Blogger and Flickr (and Odeo -- evhead's the Edward Bernays of our emerging internet culture!) I'm calling it the latest iteration in the developing pornography of the self, and not just because I like the phrase.

Michael06 20 200710:06PM

"Twitter's like Flickr without the images."

Yes, or chocolate without the flavor.

I'm sure it could be co-opted into something different than it is (which is inane ramblings of vapid the vapid and self-absorbed when I've looked). But there are other tools that are already other things. Or that can be similarly co-opted. Or created.

Twitter does not appear to have been designed to be a serious tool, and it does not appear, with few exceptions, to be used as such. If you doubt it, go to the home page right now. Just to be sure, I've looked nearly a dozen times - it's always without substance.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to be critical. Or I didn't mean to be. But, really, Twitter just makes me sad.

Cat Laine14 20 200710:14PM

I'm in charge of blogging, flickr-ing and all things web 2.0 for the non-profit AIDG. I just joined twitter today, but am trying to figure out how useful it would be for our org. All the other tools (wordpress, delicious, flickr, et al.) have been ab-fab for us, allowing us to network, meet new people, and get our name out there, but I don't know about twitter. Thoughts?

Kyle19 20 200710:19PM

Still though, it would be better if you could just make the message area a little taller or something.

Agreed. I had the same reaction when I used Twitterific. I stopped because no one I know uses Twitter (quite useless, really).

Samuel Sidler56 21 2007 1:56AM

Woah woah woah... I'm pretty sure that Wordie is Flickr without the photos and has been long before Twitter got called that...

Man, Kottke, do some research. ;)

Oyvind16 21 2007 9:16AM

Nobody else using it... It's as the first days of IM, not one of my friends knew what IM was, when I first told them. SMS on the mobil phone: Ditto.

In a year or so, they all have joined.

Or hates it.

Just as with IM and SMS. Hehe..

kay59 21 200710:59AM

virtual friends?

re40444 21 2007 1:44PM

"Twitter's like bread without the flower."

:)

well ... i just signed up and i don't know yet ... i don't feel like disturbing all my friends again with a new social web2.0 tool/portal/thing/whatever-it-is.

but at least I DO exist in Twitter, i'm re404 :)

robrob28 21 2007 5:28PM

it's funny how people see the glass half full vs half empty. I wrotea very similar piece yesterday, but I see twitter as reducing the Social Web down to the it's most obnoxious and asinine. As far as your point about people saying the same thing about blogs X years ago- well, i still don't read "what i had for lunch today" blogs- unless it's a focused and well written blog that methodically tracks spending at service at local restruants or something, heh. i just prefer a little more meat in my content.
I also made a dodgeball reference, but again, that was after watching someone get sick of the annual SXSW dodgeball spam.

Gedeon Maheux08 21 200710:08PM

Love all the poo-pooers here and around the web who just don't get Twitter and never will. That's fine, I only want to know what my *friends* had for lunch today, not what the rest of you Debbie Downers are having. If you don't understand the value of just "hanging out" with your digital friends via Twitter, feeling connected and closer to them as a result, then that, quite frankly, is your loss.

MC58 22 2007 2:58PM

Gedeon Maheux says:

"If you don't understand the value of just "hanging out" with your digital friends via Twitter...then that, quite frankly, is your loss."

Indeed. Much in the same way that it is our loss that we don't "get" pork rinds, professional wrestling, Dancing With The Stars, or the National Inquirer.

There are plenty of people who will tell you that you don't 'get' anything if you don't enjoy it - and I guess in a way they would be right. I never got Milli Vanilli, or Right Said Fred - but millions of other people did. That doesn't mean they made good music.

Whether or not you enjoy what Twitter has to offer is subjective, and you are entitled to your opinion. Whether it is substantial, and whether the functionality you describe are trite and banal really are not subjective.

Unless your lunch poisons you, or becomes animated and runs away (and, debatably, unless you are a professional food critic) - to think that publishing what you have for lunch is worthwhile speaks poorly of our culture.

Jw11 22 2007 4:11PM

As with most apps that allow you to publish your thoughts, whereabouts, or miscellany to the masses, a person's twitter is only as relevant as the twit who's twittering.

In the last few days, I've seen a few twitter boxes pop up on websites I frequent, and most of them say something like this (after about 90 seconds of lodaing):

"Making dinner. POSTED 13 HOURS AGO."

So... yeah, it's great. Glad you wrote that. Glad we know "what you're doing, where you are, right now".

This is the fate of all Twitter accounts- people get all up in its face the first few days, then get bored with constantly updating their online lives, and abandon it. We'll be seeing a lot of "Watching Seinfeld! POSTED 3 MONTHS AGO" in about... three months and two days.

brendadangelo30 23 2007 7:30AM

I just joined twitter today, but am trying to figure out how useful it would be for our org.

Wolfiewolf27 25 2007 6:27AM

'Unless your lunch poisons you, or becomes animated and runs away (and, debatably, unless you are a professional food critic) - to think that publishing what you have for lunch is worthwhile speaks poorly of our culture.'
Have you never read Samuel Peyps?

Wolfiewolf37 25 2007 6:37AM

The other quote which comes to mind is from Freya Stark
http://herrylaw.blogspot.com/2005/08/favourite-writings.html
Maybe though means like Twitter getting closer to 'the translation of life into language' all the time...

danbee42 26 200710:42AM

Is it just me or is Twitter unusably slow right now?

Mark M. Smith21 27 2007 5:21PM

Livejournal has remained one of the few blogging (and I hate to use that word to describe it) that has remained more or less exactly like all the other early personal blogs. It is still very much devoted to people posting things intended for friends and family and basically is no more complicated than "type in the box".

Early Livejournal clients greatly resemble Twitter as well. I recall using the Linux client back in early 2000 when I first signed up and it was simple a small text box to type in and send something off. Most early posts also followed the line of Twitter with people logging the intense minutiae of their lives and what they were doing at the moment. I recall the founder having a number of posts along the lines of "I'm going somewhere." and "I'm back home now."

More interestingly is that, yes, it only makes sense if you have friends that use it. This is the great problem of all social software. It's not useful unless your friends use it, but how do you convince your friends to use this cool new social software that isn't useful unless their friends use it.

Frankly I can potentially see the use for Twitter if many of your friends are using it, but it still feels a bit too navel-gazing and pointless to me at this stage and I expect to continue to loathe it as much as I loathe MySpace.

Twitter Forum09 31 2007 4:09AM

Nice article and overview, we all wait to see what is going to come out from the guys at twitter and we will see just how big this thing gets.

We have created a new Twitter community and forum if anyone is interested, come by and get some discussions on Twitter going.

twitterforum dot com

Nani29 02 2007 3:29AM

smackfu says:
You can tell how slow twitter is by how long you have to wait for evhead.com to load. About 60 secs of "waiting for twitter.com" at the moment. Beware adding the badge to your blog.
ยป by smackfu on Mar 20, 2007 at 04:23 PM

Why should we beware to add the Twitter badge to our blog? or to Myspace?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

kottke.org

Front page
About + contact
Site archives

Subscribe

Follow kottke.org on Twitter

Follow kottke.org on Tumblr

Like kottke.org on Facebook

Subscribe to the RSS feed

Advertisement

Ads by The Deck

Support kottke.org shop at Amazon

And more at Amazon.com

Looking for work?

More at We Work Remotely

Kottke @ Quarterly

Subscribe to Quarterly and get a real-life mailing from Jason every three months.

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting