Twitter Is Like A Casual Conversation Among Friends Over Dinner

from the that's-it dept

I've noticed that whenever we mention Twitter on this site, we inevitably get some snarky comment from someone about how useless Twitter is. It often seems to come from someone with a "been there/done that" attitude, but it really comes off quite like the folks who used to mock mobile phones as being useless, email as being useless, the web as being useless and blogs as being useless. The fact is many, many, many people find all those things quite valuable, and these days you don't hear so many complaints about phones, email and the web being useless (you still sometimes hear people talking about blogs being useless). One of the most common put downs of Twitter is that "I don't care about someone eating a tuna sandwich for lunch." And, indeed, most people don't. But if all you follow are people whose tuna sandwich lunches you don't care about, you're not using the tool correctly.

Roger Ebert has been using Twitter quite a lot lately, and he came to it after being one of the Twitter-haters (like many people are), and he's now written eloquently about how he realized his initial thoughts on the service were wrong:
I vowed I would never become a Twit. Now I have Tweeted nearly 10,000 Tweets. I said Twitter represented the end of civilization. It now represents a part of the civilization I live in. I said it was impossible to think of great writing in terms of 140 characters. I have been humbled by a mother of three in New Delhi. I said I feared I would become addicted. I was correct.
Now, part of that is the fact that he has lost his voice, which has made it difficult for him to have good face-to-face conversations, something that he can do on Twitter. And it's that aspect of it that made him realize what a useful service it is:
I am in conversation. When you think about it, Twitter is something like a casual conversation among friends over dinner: Jokes, gossip, idle chatter, despair, philosophy, snark, outrage, news bulletins, mourning the dead, passing the time, remembering favorite lines, revealing yourself.
A bunch of people sent this story over, and initially I wasn't sure if there was anything to say about it. But those few lines above so accurately describe the value of Twitter that it seemed worthwhile to post. I know it won't convince those who still see no need for the service, or those who feel the need to immediately put it down without additional thought, but for those who have found the service to be useful, the point Ebert makes above is what makes it so valuable. For me, personally, I've found that those sorts of "conversations" have allowed me to stay much more in touch with friends and family around the world, while also making new friends and acquaintances along the way. It really is just an ongoing conversation, and in a world where conversation matters (as I believe it does now, more than ever), the tools that make conversation easier are too important to simply brush aside as useless.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:08am

    I'm not a heavy sender of messages, but most of the people I follow are people or companies I am genuinely interested in. There's 2 people I know IRL (I leave Facebook for keeping in touch with friends & family), the rest are websites I follow and filmmakers and musicians I would not have been able to communicate with in any other way with the same kind of intimacy.

    Yeah, some people can spam you at times (I'm looking at you, Kevin Smith), but if you find a person annoying to follow, just stop following them. Not interested in using it? Don't use it. Meanwhile, I've had many scoops direct from the horse's mouth about projects I'm interested in, gotten early news on freebies and competitions I've ended up winning, etc.

    Like the anti-Facebook crowd who seem to think that everyone can just pop round the corner to see their friends and family to get the latest news (mine are spread across 10 countries on 4 continents), the anti-Twitter folk are either doing it wrong or don't see the point. That's fine, just stop telling me I'm wrong because I find it useful.

     

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    Sam_K (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:12am

    I have tried really hard to understand Twitter for the past year, and so far I've failed. I'm not going to say it's stupid, I still really believe that it's me who is deficient here. So, I'll tell you what I don't get, and maybe some of your commenters can help me.

    I've followed a bunch of people on Twitter, people whose other content I really enjoy (podcasters, artists, journalists, etc) the problem is that 95%+ of my Twitter feed is @replies to other people who I don't know and therefore did not see their original comment which sparked the reply.

    So, to me, my Twitter feed looks like a room full of people who are all on the phone to people I don't know. I only ever hear one side of the conversation and most of the time that is not enough for me to understand what is being talked about.

    It's like reading a bunch of people's email "sent" boxes and the emails they are replying to are never quoted.

    Hardly ever does anyone Tweet something that is actually just a "from me to everyone" kind of communication.

    Surely I'm not doing it right? Please help.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 9:45am

      Re:

      Twitter is inane conversation that has very little content and almost no context. I've attempted to follow single tweets that were highly rated and gained no benefit from it. It's far more noise than signal.

      Even blogs that I follow that have authors tweeting, the tweets add no significant additions, because they are off the cuff and unedited.

       

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      redwall_hp (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      Yep, you're doing it wrong. Luckily there's an easy fix. Log in to Twitter and go to your settings. There should be an option somewhere to hide @replies (or "mentions") to people you don't know. That was once the case, anyway. I seem to recall talk that Twitter had made the hiding option the default and removed the choice.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 10:06am

      Re:

      I've followed a bunch of people on Twitter, people whose other content I really enjoy (podcasters, artists, journalists, etc) the problem is that 95%+ of my Twitter feed is @replies to other people who I don't know and therefore did not see their original comment which sparked the reply.

      That's weird. I'm pretty sure the default setting these days is that you DO NOT see @replies to people you don't follow.

      Perhaps you tried Twitter a long time ago when it was different?

       

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      MacSmiley, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 10:18pm

      Re: @replies

      " 95%+ of my Twitter feed is @replies to other people who I don't know"


      Has it been awhile since you've used Twitter? The situation you complain about does not exist anymore.

      Over a year ago, due to technical reasons, Twitter removed the ability to see those "half-conversations".

      http://mashable.com/2009/05/13/twitter-fixreplies/

      I miss that option very much, but for you, that's one "problem" you won't have to deal with any more. Now, if you want to see who else someone you're following is talking you, you'll have to visit their Twitter profile page.

      In other news, the old adage you get out of something what you put into it applies to Twitter. But in this case, HOW you follow Twitter is almost as important as who you follow.

      By all means, use a Twitter client instead of accessing only the web interface at Twitter.com. That will turn your Twitter stream into something that looks more like Instant Messaging.

      Finally, if you want an interesting Twitter stream, follow interesting people.

       

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    danny bloom, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:26am

    tweets and internet lowercase or CAPS

    this just in from UK website,
    take a look:

    Tamlin Magee writes at:

    http://www.techeye.net/internet/ne

    The New York Times sure doesn't like to lead THE way, especially with language in technology. As many forward THINKING and established news organs over here in Blighty agree, THERE'S no need to capitalise the 'i' in internet. However THE New York Times, as well as Associated Press, have STUBBORNLY refused to make the switch to lower case.

    "Our CURRENT style is to keep the uppercase "I" [for Internet]," CORBETT told a friend. "I agree that the trend is TOWARD lowercase, and I suspect that at some point we WILL review our style. But our preference is to follow ESTABLISHED usage, not to lead the way. So I can't PREDICT when the change might be made."

    The same friend INFORMED us that Ted Anthony, an editor at Associated Press, WOULD be for a change but it's such a big DEAL that we'd expect to see a press release issued FIRST.

    Which is all fine - freedom of the press (to QUIBBLE over grammar) and all that. We must say, however, THE New York Times seems to be pretty keen to USE the Apple-approved syntax for iPad. Shouldn't that be IPAD, or Ipad, or ipad?

     

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    some old guy, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:28am

    get off my lawn

    twitter is for twits.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:30am

    The analogy with a conversation among friends is deeply flawed. As long as you have a public timeline - as the majority of users do - anyone can read your messages on Twitter, including people who don't even have an account. That bothers me immensely, as people too easily forget that anyone might be reading their timelines.

     

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      bishboria (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:57am

      Re:

      Then make your tweets private then; it's an option in your (and everyone's) account settings.

       

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      Michael, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:58am

      Re:

      It still sounds like a good analogy to me - just make sure you remember that your conversation over dinner is at a bistro table in Times Square. Plenty of people will be walking past and can hear what you say.

      Here is the really cool part: Some of them will not like what you say and complain to you. Some of them may become so interested that they sit down at your ever-expanding table and throw a few words in of their own. You may not like all of these people - and some of them may not like you, but I would prefer a world in which it is ok to sit at that bistro table and start sharing my ideas as well.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:10am

        Re: Re:

        with microphones, a 100,000 watt speaker system, large screens, camera crews, and someone spray painting your comments on passing subway cars.

         

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          Michael, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:51am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not sure you understand how twitter works.

          It's not at all like someone is spray painting it on billboards that everyone sees. Do you have any idea how many tweets you missed while you were writing that comment?

          You really need 'proximity' of sorts. Yes, you can search for tweets and filter them, and there are archives you can look through, but you have to set the search terms. That's not like happening by a conversation as much as seeking one out, but that's part of the greatness of it.

          Yes, your "private" conversation gets recorded and published, but that is the powerful part of the tool. If you don't want to publish what you say, don't use the tool.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 9:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            i might not read all passing subway cars. it is just that your discussion is effectively that public. it isnt a discussion over dinner, because we all pretty much say things over dinner that we dont want other people to hear. twitter is mostly ego masturbation, public exhibitionism taken to the nth degree. i dont care that someone found a parking spot, and i certainly didnt need it to have #hotnews or #whatever is hot today tagged into it.

             

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    out_of_the_blue, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:07am

    Yes, Twitter is meaningless trivia. Anyone can do *that*.

    While web-site comments run more to a mob of surly strangers who seize on the least relevant of your points and deliver a barrage of hostile ad-hom. Example below: I'll bet that even with this explanation, some can't resist biting when they see "sports" fans compared to dogs.

    "those few lines above so accurately describe the value of Twitter" --Yup. Same reason sports are popular, it's accessible down to literally sub-human, even a dog can be amused by images that change.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:16am

    twitter is dinner conversation between people sitting at different tables, using megaphones. it is also much like public masturbation.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:55am

      Re:

      Especially if it's an emergency and some tweet informs you that your loved ones are safe. Such silly masturbation!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:16am

    The main problem with all these "2.0" tools is they all feed off the need for people to have their ego stroked. It's not about conversation or ideas, it's about people having 'friends' and 'followers' and 'fans' and feeling like their drivel is important to all the other people trying desperately to use those links to make their own drivel feel important. Take away the social scoring and see who still plays.

     

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    BBT, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:31am

    I've always been one of those guys who doesn't get Twitter. It's not that it's not a useful service! Really, I see the value of having a broadcast service, and all the things Ebert mentions. It's just that Facebook already has the same service, except without the lame length restriction, with better control over access, and with a lot of other nice features instead of being a one trick pony. There is no compelling reason to say something on Twitter instead of Facebook, and many compelling reasons to stay on Facebook.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:01am

    Indeed..

    Call phones. E-mail. Voice Mail.

    I have enough to keep up with - I am NOT adding anything else :)

    Not that twitter sucks, I just have too much that takes up too much time now. Not looking for anything else to 'keep after'.

     

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    WammerJammer (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:22am

    Love the service

    Hate the name. I am from the wrong generation to be called a twit(ter) and I quote: 'A British slang word for an insignificant, foolish or annoying person', again I quote from Wikipedia: 'Twit may refer to: Idiot, a mentally deficient or self-defeating person;' You must understand that the word twit is interpreted as an insult and if the creator of the service had said that to my face we would of had an altercation. The word Twitter reminds me of a little brainless bird flying into the glass door and is too stupid to figure it out. The name sucks and as a result I can't use the service. But it was created by young guy(s) that never thought about other generations and how they react to being insulted.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:25am

      Re: Love the service

      Do you normally break words up into their component parts to criticise them? The full word twitter has very different meanings if you consider the whole thing:

      twitter [twit-er]

      verb (used without object)
      1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.
      2. to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter.
      3. to titter; giggle.
      4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.

      verb (used with object)
      5. to express or utter by twittering.

      noun
      6. an act of twittering.
      7. a twittering sound.
      8. a state of tremulous excitement.

      Pretty apt for the way that service works, really.

       

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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:39am

    "I vowed I would never become a Twit." I'm sure that Leo Laporte would be very happy with that... (He owns the trademark on the word Twit)
    Someone who uses Twitter, is a twitterer.

     

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    RobShaver, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:02am

    Trying not to be snarky ...

    I still don't find Twitter useful or interesting. I admire Roger Ebert greatly and am really glad Twitter gives him a way to connect with others. But I had to un-follow him for the very reason of too many tweets. It was all-Ebert-all-the-time. And I could only see his side of the conversation. I just couldn't get interested.

    I've set up some lists with people who's blogs and podcasts I follow all the time. There Tweets are still of little interest. Again, I see only half the conversation so I can't really follow what is being discussed. Maybe I'm missing something.

    To me Tweets are shallow, blogs can be deep.

    Oh, and I still don't find cell-phones all that useful either. I've got one for emergencies and only turn it on when I'm expecting a call from my wife ... say when I'm picking her up at the airport. If I leave it on the only calls I get are automated sales calls. I only pay about $100 per year on it too.

    So that's just my experience ... and I'm entitled to my experience, don't you think? I'm not saying no one else should have their experience or that we should outlaw micro-blogging. I'm just saying, for me, my time is better spent in other places ... like reading TechDirt ... and writing long non-snarky comments.

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

     

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    Robert Ring (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:19am

    It's funny that for "Twitter-haters," it seems like the standard argument they fall back on is, "I don't feel the need to tell everybody every time I go to the bathroom" (I've heard Lars Ulrich, among others make that statement).

    Whenever I hear someone say that, I think "You know it can be used for other things, right?"

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

      Re:

      there are not that many twitter haters, just a bunch of us who realize that there is little good to be had in putting your every useless though and action online. people are getting twitter things for their dogs so they can tweet stupid "chased a squirrel" tweets. dont you think it is all so meaningless?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:35am

    Now we just need to find a way to get Ebert playing video games...

     

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    this just in, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 10:41am

    "I can't keep a secret. People won't be friends with me becuase they're afraid its going on Twitter."

    - Ashton Kutcher tells Ladies Home Journal

     

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    Mojo, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 12:11pm

    Give me a break

    Wow, really? You're using a story about someone who lost his voice now seeing the value of Twitter as a way of showing off how the service is gaining more acceptance, even from past haters?

    That would be like showing how the adoption of religon is skyrocketing by only polling prisoners on death row.

    If Ebert HADN'T lost the ability to speak and suddenly started tweeing, maybe I'd take notice...

     

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    nasch (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 2:03am

    Face to face?

    Now, part of that is the fact that he has lost his voice, which has made it difficult for him to have good face-to-face conversations, something that he can do on Twitter.

    How exactly do you have a face-to-face conversation on Twitter?

     

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    James McLeod, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 2:39am

    Twitter is like...

    Twitter is like a New York City luncheon counter... elbow to elbow, loud and confusing. A place where you barely understand the language being spoken. WTF

     

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    Mike Rice (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 6:02am

    Tweets

    You can't get a following on Twitter unless you're already a celeb, because the followers of Twitter are followers, only able to respond to already proven success. They're unable to recognize significant writing. Twitter is for dopes.

     

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    Aaron Toponce, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 6:20am

    Conversation and keeping in touch

    People balk at the "Web 2.0" tools like it's some sort of trend, when in reality, tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Friendfeed, Identi.ca and others are all about keeping in touch with those you care about.

    And of those I follow, it's not so much the broadcasting, as it is conversation. My family and friends on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere don't broadcast that they're going to the bathroom, then having a sandwich, or they just got up, and getting ready for work. Instead, they say things like how much they love their kids, why a certain employee is driving them nuts, or why they like the Celtics over the Lakers. Most of these spark comments, creating a genuine, real-time conversation.

    Conversations with people, that had these tools not existed, would not be taking place.

    For me, I'm a conversation-aholic. I'm in IRC, IM, Facebook, Twitter, Identi.ca, Buzz, Google Reader, email, RSS and a number of others. It's not about followers, as much as it is about finding those who are important to me, or those I have an interest in keeping contact with, and then getting the relevant data from their lives.

    It is indeed conversation. Sometimes too, it's arguments, political commentary, Q & A, sympathy, celebrations and so much more.

    As with anything, these can be abused, but the great thing with many of these tools, is you can stop following them, and the abuse is no longer a problem for you. You get the data that's interesting to you, and cut out all the rest of the noise.

    That's my thoughts anyway.

     

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