Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Twitter, part deux

Some many moons ago now, I had a little rant about a new scourge on the internets ... the beast that is Twitter. In it, I said that I can understand the draw of social messaging (I use IRC and IM, so the concept is not alien to me) but that I can't understand the point of sending out details of the minutiae of your life to complete strangers. However, a long time has passed since I wrote that post, so I thought it time to revisit. Why? Well, simply because I've been actively using Twitter for a while now. Yes, I have been sucked in. Bugger.
Seriously, though, I have started using it. The reasons are manifold and complex. Actually, that's a lie, it's very simple. A bunch of people I know also started using it more actively and I joined in. Why does anyone do anything on these social networking type sites? Because other people do. It's as good a reason as any.
Although I have started using Twitter more actively, I still use it in a fairly limited way. For instance, my profile is private and I have only a few followers. This is primarily because, for all I'm using the platform, I'm not into broadcasting my updates to the big wide world for all to see. I've also been followed by several strange accounts which appear to be bots that are simply there to gather data. Setting my profile to private keeps out bots, oiks and other undesirables. I value my privacy, even in a public forum.
Generally speaking, the content couldn't ever really be described as useful. It's not dramatically different to general banter visible in any number of other media, such as IRC or even Facebook statuses. In fact, Twitter seems like an intermediate step between several other existing ways to communicate. Some parallels I have drawn include:
  • SMS Text messaging, the primary means of communication of preteens everywhere. Except Twitter doesn't cost anything. Direct messages are very much like an SMS without being tied to a mobile phone.
  • IM Instant messaging has long been the primary computer-based communication tool for the masses. It has an immediacy that Twitter lacks, but that's what gives Twitter the edge. Direct messages, Replies and Retweets and like an asynchronous instant messaging system. So ... a delayed messaging system, then.
  • IRC If DMs are like delayed IM, then general Twitter activity is like an asynchronous IRC channel. In fact, the Twitter/IRC comparison seems to the most common parallel drawn.
  • Facebook Since the inclusion of comments on Facebook statuses, small conversations based on a short missive from any particular user have become commonplace. Twitter does this too. In fact, there's not a lot of difference in the concept; just in the practicalities of implementation.
Of course, being decoupled from a particular client or device means that there are lots of ways to update Twitter (generally speaking I avoid the term "tweet".) A short list of the various clients I use:
  • Mobile Twitter Using my phone's built in browser, the Twitter mobile website (m.twitter.com) works pretty well. The only major problem is that DMs don't appear to work.
  • Spaz A fairly simple desktop Twitter client that has a lot of nice features, and isn't irritating. An unusual quality in modern software.
  • Tweetdeck A somewhat more powerful desktop Twitter client that is very useful but irritating as hell.
  • Twim A Java MIDP based client for mobile phones. It works, but that's all I can say for it.
  • Mauku A Twitter and Jaiku client for Maemo (for Nokia's 770, 800 and 810 internet tablets) that is actually the best of the bunch. Very nice.
So, that's Twitter, and that's how I use it. Am I a convert to the way of Twitter? Or do I just use it as another way to pass the time rather than doing anything useful. Unfortunately, it's mostly the latter. There's nobody on Twitter that I can't communicate with in some other way. But as I outlined earlier, it has benefits over other methods of communication (especially the asynchronous nature of it) that mean for keeping tabs on friends and talking bollocks when bored, it's ideal.
You're still not going to see my dirty laundry on the public feed, though.

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