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Why Don’t People Get Twitter?

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  August 19, 2009  |  18 Comments

Twitter isn’t artful, it isn’t deep, it is sometimes even silly, but it certainly can be powerful. Many people I run into in my travels don’t seem to get it.

This Techcrunch article entitled, “Why I don’t Use Twitter” has motivated me to blog on this concern of mine. Forget for a moment that someone who admits he doesn’t use it is criticizing it and lets look at a few arguments he makes against Twitter (and I’ll expand it to the broader microblogging movement) that really are shared by many.

  • A 140 character message is trivial
  • A 140 character message is abridged   
  • It isn’t elegant
  • Indiscriminate broadcasts

Certainly there must be something to Twitter and Microblogging or people wouldn’t do it, right? Each medium has it’s pros and cons and you can choose the wrong medium for a message. So when is microblogging the right medium? Mass awareness and mass coordination. I’ve posted on this before but I’ll expand on it by addressing the above arguments.

A 140 character message is trivial. Triviality is in the eyes of the beholder. My wife certainly has taught me that exchanging what might seem like trivial information can be strong bonding glue for a relationship. Since a large value proposition for blogging (and microblogging) is mass relationship building, it makes perfect sense that Twitter is used in this fashion. Celebrities with fans are a great example. I may not care about every move Ashton Kutcher makes but obviously many do and it makes them feel closer to him. Bonding is what some of this is all about and knowing the trivial can be intimate. Now if we move away from the personal and get to the professional realm there are many examples of non-trivial use that are not the exception but the rule. Here are but a few;

“The fire is now moving at 25 MPH in a southeasterly direction”

“Refugees at the X camp are now down to 100 gallons of fresh water”

“Spotted ~10 enemy at hill 203 armed with automatic weapons and an RPG”

“Just published my findings on the ROI for Social Media Solutions see [link]”

“TechCrunch Blogger Devin Coldewey doesn’t get Twitter see [link]. Do you? See [link]”

“My father passed away yesterday. Funeral Tuesday 9AM @ Sacred Heart”

“Google Stock up 3%, execute Plan B”

A 140 character message is abridged and It isn’t elegant There is a place for artfulness and a place for depth. Microblogging isn’t it. It is for expediency and breadth. This reminds me of a personal story. I’ll never forget when as a young USMC Captain I was briefing a 2 star general and man I was waxing eloquent when he stopped me and said, “Don’t tell me what you want to tell me, tell me only what I want to know.” He had no desire for my artfulness but wanted me out of his office as fast as possible. A rough but important lesson. Micorblogging is for making people aware not imparting an understanding (which is why all this is in my blog not a steady stream of tweets). Elegance is a luxury in the information age when the sheer volume of information is unmanageable. If I can get 50 carefully selected Tweeters to filter that morass for me then I’ll take abridged any day. If I want elegance I’ll pick up Emily Bronte.

Indiscriminate broadcasts If you think microblogging (and Twitter) is indiscriminate broadcasting then you really don’t get it. It is the opposite of broadcasting. It is not a distribution, it is a collective. I don’t broadcast anything. I tweet and those that are interested collect around my tweets. Unlike my e-mail distribution list, with microblogging I don’t decide who receives my messages. The reader decides if my messages are worth reading. That is a very, very, very big difference and the distinction between a distribution and a collective. If I’m a bad microblogger and I post messages that are unnecessarily trivial then you can stop following me and NEVER see another message from me.  

The potential goes on and on when you think of the value in terms of mass awareness and mass coordination. If you think of microblogging as a way to artfully impart deep insights then you are going to be disappointed just like you would be if you wanted to pack up and move your 4 bedroom house in a Mini Cooper.     

What do you think?

BTW, my Twitter name is bradleyanthonyj in case you want to know what I had for lunch 🙂

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Category: social-solutions  

Tags: micro-blogging  

Anthony J. Bradley
13 years at Gartner
30 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a Group Vice President in Gartner Research. In this role he leads global teams of analysts who research the emerging technologies and trends that are changing today's world and shaping the future. Mr. Bradley's group strives to provide technology product and service leaders (Tech CEOs, General Managers, Chief Product Officers, Practice Leads, Product Managers and Product Marketers) with unique, high-value research and indispensable advice on leveraging emerging technologies and trends to create and deliver highly successful products and services. Information technology now impacts pretty much every business function in all companies, all industries, and all geographies. Technology providers are critical to the technology and business innovation that will define the world of tomorrow. Innovation depends on technology providers. By helping them, we help the world.

Thoughts on Why Don’t People Get Twitter?

  1. Jay Scism says:

    Haven’t people ever heard of the elevator sales pitch? If you can’t convey a message succinctly, you are probably a bad communicator.

    I used to have a rule for written communications to my old CIO – he was so busy, you had the first 14 words of any email or blackberry message. After that, done.

    Twitter would have been right up his alley.

  2. ignar says:

    Great post! I especially like \It is not a distribution, it is a collective\ part.

  3. Instalatorul says:

    Splendid article, Mr. Bradley, and greetings from a Romanian reader! My opinion is a bit differentially: the short communication in an organized group is usefully, the short communication in an un-organized ( and un precise) group could be not. A people could be an excellent short communicator in an organized structure and a very bad one in a communication for “all the world”.
    A blog means to write what you do and what you are doing, what you think and what you are thinking,… A microblog means to write only what you are doing, what you are thinking, what you are seeing,… It is a difference, it could be a big difference. You could be brilliant on a blog and completely trivial on a microblog. It is a real fact that there are not enough words to exprime exactly our thinks. The microblogs could be very good facts of life, but in a subcultural maneer. Sorry for my bad English. Best Regards.

  4. cswriter991 says:

    I have found more resources and learned more info in my field using Twitter than I have in half a dozen writing related courses. It is what you make of it, and I have made it a powerful tool for me.

  5. Twitter encourages \Crisp\ communications — for THAT reason alone, its a beautiful thing.

  6. Well said.

    Often, the common view is that too much of what people say has no relevance. Well honestly, too much of what I say is irrelevant too in my every day conversations. However, people have the ability to filter out the noise and take the valuable bits out.

    Twitter adds value and enables engagement with wider communities in an easily accessible way.

  7. […] Interesante resumen en una también interesante reflexión sobre Twitter, de Anthony Bradley. […]

  8. Twitter is about conversations.

    Twitter is about the single voice, that stomps the corporate world.

    Twitter is The Cluetrain Manifesto come to life.


  9. Camille says:

    Enjoyed your post! Fuzzy on the microblogging as “not broadcast” bit though. If I don’t want to watch NBC ever again, I simply do not go to that channel. This does not mean that NBC is not broadcasting. I agree that microblogging is not “indiscriminate” because the medium allows for a more targeted approach, however, I think it is still broadcasting, albeit with few barriers to entry. Thoughts?

    (former AR maven and current NYU grad student)

  10. The key point from Coldeway is this: “The halo of Twitter meta-services is indicative (in my opinion) less of the popularity of the service and more of how it falls short of the mark.”

    It’s also less semantically-enthused than Facebook, which means that it takes much more cognitive processing time to fully participate. (ie., imagine if you entered a community of people who shared a particular verbal tic– they didn’t use tenses, they spoke like Yoda, or they used tech jargon. You could participate, but you would have to convince yourself you should devote the time to it.)

    And it’s not like Twitter has an effective coding system. RT, @ and # are as complex as it is today. There is no grammar for encoding priority, which is why your chatty tweeting friends’ flim-flam crowds out more unique updates from others.

    See more explanation:

  11. Stessa Cohen says:

    Sometimes a tweet is just a tweet.

  12. I actually think Tweeter can be quite elegant. Reading now “In pursuit of Elegance”, where Matthew E. May makes a compelling case for less is more. TWitter is definitely more for less.

  13. Suzanne Hoffman says:

    Good Blog.
    Twitter has no historical context. It only exists in the present and is read as of a point in time. This follows the concept of microblogging where there are snippets of information. The broadcast analogy is probably a good one as it is best to think of Twitter as outbound push to an audience without encouraging a response or dialog. SMS is far better for a conversation that twitter. Sort of like the “cliff notes” of life.


  14. I enjoyed your article. Twitter is on the right track but the 140 character limitation is a bit much. Trying to capture someones attention and impart useful information needs more space. It is the moment of “now” that by chance a person is reading your tweet.

  15. Good article, Bradley.

    But, though I may have been mildly curious about one or two of your gourmet lunches, this particular Twitter ID won’t help us find out: bradleyanthony

    Twitter says it doesn’t exist….so, you may want to check it:

    Keep STRONG, Bradley!

  16. […] Why Don’t People Get Twitter? – view page – cached […]

  17. Anthony Bradley says:

    You forgot the j. it is bradleyanthonyj

  18. […] Another subject of matter regarding social media technologies as facebook and twitter, is the idea of collecting information in opposition to distributing information, Anthony Bradley in “Why Don’t People Get Twitter?“. […]

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