Pointless Babble Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

from the yer-doing-it-wrong dept

A bunch of folks have been submitting some silly study claiming that 40% of Twitter messages are “pointless babble,” confirming the standard critique from non-Twitter users of the uselessness of Twitter as a whole. Of course, there are all sorts of problems with this that have been raised by a bunch of people, starting with the methodology, but a bigger point is that the only really “pointless babble” is in trying to determine how much of Twitter is pointless babble. That’s because Twitter doesn’t work as a broadcast mechanism, whereby you have to pay attention to all of it. It’s based on who you follow. If there’s too much “pointless babble,” there’s a simple solution: follow other people. As Sean Garrett sarcastically notes, “62% of all phone conversations deemed “useless babble” say researchers.”

But the real issue is that “pointless babble” is very much in the eye of the beholder. What these researchers consider to be pointless babble (things like someone tweeting that they were going out to eat) can actually be quite useful and valuable. I still tell the story of how just such a “pointless babble” of a Tweet resulted in me getting a chance to meet someone I’d wanted to meet for a while, and I’ve had many other “pointless babble” tweets come in handy in doing business deals or meeting other people as well. What’s “pointless babble” to some can be incredibly useful to others.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Pointless Babble Is In The Eye Of The Beholder”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Oh, man, I will listen to Amanda Palmer babble all day long. Also, Neil Gaiman’s babble. And them back and forth is even better than one individually. Oh plus, interesting amusing people that I will never meet in real life, whose gender I sometimes don’t even know. And in the end, all of this babble will still be classier and less pointless than a single episode of ‘The Hills’ or ‘Gossip Girl’. So, anyway, the point of the babble is ‘entertainment’.

And since when is human interaction pointless, regardless of it’s entertainment value?

Kazi says:

Re: 40%?

99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 of phone calls are babble. The .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% that ring my phone aren’t.

In the case of Twitter it can be 100% though!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Pointless Babbling is the point

My only problem with Twitter is when it ISN’T used for pointless babble, because when it isn’t “babbling”, it winds up getting used as a replacement for RSS, but RSS doesn’t need replacing, that’s why we have it.

Hmm. So the telegraph didn’t need replacing, because we had the telegraph? Horse & buggies didn’t need replacing because we had horse & buggies?

Technology changes over time. I’m not saying that RSS needs to be replaced, but saying that because it’s there it deserves to stay isn’t exactly compelling.

vdeogmer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pointless Babbling is the point

I’m just saying that I see alot of emphasis placed on twitter being a protocol used for notification, but given its limitations. it doesn’t seem a useful replacement for RSS to me. Of course Twitter can be a useful tool when used for actual communication, but RSS appears to be a better protocol for notification purposes, that still has the capability to change, if it ever does become the horse and buggy.

mobiGeek (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Pointless Babbling is the point

You are missing one major element of twitter: it is an intelligent filter on your RSS feed.

If you find that twitter is full of inane and useless posts, then you are following the wrong people.

This is the true strength and direction of “social networking”. Your network becomes your filters of the Internet. The problem with RSS is that your only getting information from the feed(s) you subscribe to, and you get all those feeds.

With a healthy social network, you end up getting information from places your subscribed feeds don’t go. You get linked to information and events from areas you’d have had never checked out on your own.

I have found a variety of interesting music, news and other areas of interest specifically because of my social network feeds.

Felix Pleșoianu (user link) says:

Funny, just last night I published a blog post about the value of microblogging (which, by the way, includes a few links I gleaned from Techdirt articles – thanks, Mike).

From personal experience, anyone who says microblogging is pointless hasn’t tried it. I was wary myself before jumping in, and guess what, I was dead wrong. Here are a few good things that happened to be because of microblogging:

– I made several good (real life) friends.
– I was a featured member on Identi.ca (one of the aforementioned friends selflessly recommended me).
– I had a couple of micro-posts in the popularity Top 5 on the same website.
– I have twice as many followers as followed people.
– Literally seconds after announcing the aforementioned blog post, a follower noticed it and promptly reposted the link.

Sounds good? Now consider the fact that I’m not a very active microblogger. Nor am I famous, or doing particularly cool stuff. Just an ordinary guy trying to do something with it, as opposed to (or rather alongside with) fooling around. That’s all it takes, really.

Lisa (profile) says:

The babble on twitter is quite useful! For criminals...

The babble on twitter is quite useful! For criminals… Say, for example, that I twit that I’m away from home to watch a movie or just to get a tan at a sunny beach in France. If this tweet is picked up by a criminal who knows where I live, it could become very valuable information for them, because now they know my house is unattended. And if I tweeted before about the valuable computer that I’ve just bought, my holiday tweet becomes even more valuable.
Or when I tweet about the club that I’m visiting. My online stalker will then know where to look for me and with my picture in Twitter he can easily recognize me, put something in my drink and take a drugged me to his place where I could end up raped and/or murdered.

Do people realize that tweets could be very valuable for criminals???

Felix Pleşoianu (user link) says:

@lisa The odds of a random criminal who happens to see your tweets knowing where you live (or being in the same part of the world, really) are much smaller than a criminal from your own neighborhood overhearing you at the grocery store as you tell a friend that you’ll be away for the weekend. A real criminal will probably stalk your house anyway and notice the lights remain off in the evening. Or they might question/bribe the bum who always seems to hang out on your street. As for the club scenario, you’ve watched too many cheap thrillers. A rapist is much more likely to simply pick you up in front of your house as you return from work after dark one day.

Seriously, people, you have a LOT of other risks to take into account before Twitter. Both me and many people I know tweet regularly about our movements, and we’re yet to have any problems. Until I hear about somebody actually getting into trouble via microblogging, sorry, it’s just fear-of-the-unknown talk. And even then, I’ll still be more likely to run into one of the aforementioned dangers.

Lisae Boucher (profile) says:

Re: Felix

The odds of a criminal to find someone tweeting in his area is slightly bigger than you think. They’re not going after one specific person but will just see if some tweeters are reporting about things in their neighbourhood. Say, for example, the Gay Parade that was held a few weeks back in Amsterdam. Just check with your search engine within tweeter.com about anyone making remarks about this parade and you’ll have a collection of possible visitors who might live near Amsterdam. Some further research would provide some very interesting targets.

And about stalkers, there’s always a risk for that although it does depend on your online behavior. I just wonder how many teens are tweeting and how many adults are listening to their tweets, hoping for a chance to meet one of those.

Criminals won’t just go for one person. They just collect information and then filter this data until they find some interesting victim. This can happen with any site, not just Tweeter. It’s just that people seem to have far less problems providing personal information over the Internet than by person. And there are far more people who can overhear them!

Example: I used this URL to query twitter: http://twitter.com/#search?q=visit%20parade%20amsterdam
It only provided three members, but I do find a Dutch guy there, tweeting. He has his own website, thus his own domain so I could check the domain registration to find his address and I know he’s visiting the parade (well, a week ago) so he’s not home by then. A nice moment to visit his place, right?

Still, most criminals aren’t so technical inclined to just search on the Internet for possible targets, which explains why it’s still very rare. The Internet is about 20 years old and Twitter is even younger. Crime hasn’t adjusted to this new technique yet. Just keep in mind that a century ago, most people wouldn’t even need to lock their door, car, bike, horse or whatever. There were still many dishonest people but the possessions of the average civilian just weren’t interesting enough to steal.

There’s one other risk with twitter, though. It was recently proven that there’s a botnet active that misused Twitter to send commands to all the bots. It worked because Twitter access goes over port 80, while an email-based command system would require access to port 25/110. The latter is blocked more often.

Never heard about problems with holiday tweet notifications? Then read this: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-10260183-83.html
Well, it could just have been a random act but could Twitter have had a part in this? Let’s just assume it could be possible, thus take no risks…

Felix Pleşoianu (user link) says:

Re: Re: Felix

Funny how that CNet article is formulated.

An Arizona man believes that his Twitter messages about going out of town led to a burglary at his home while he was away. (…) “My wife thinks it could be a random thing, but I just have my suspicions,” he told the Associated Press. “They didn’t take any of our normal consumer electronics.”

It may well be that he’s right, after all. Just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. But he may well be wrong, and even if he isn’t, many more burglary victims are targeted by other means. (Hint: pay attention to the evening news.) After all, there were lots of burglaries before the Internet as well. Problably more, come to think of it. And the methods that work back then are still good, and time-tested to boot. Remember that criminals (like wild animals, and the laws of physics) follow the path of least resistance. For good reason, too.

another mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Felix

First off let me say Izzy (FTA) isn’t my neighbor. But I know how this sort of robbery works.
I was in my kitchen the other week and looked out the window to see some kid looking in my back yard. Looked like Kilroy with his head and hands up over the back wall. My first thought was, “That’s odd.” Second thought was, “I’m being cased.”
After he jumped down and got into the passenger side of a pickup, I went out, got the truck’s description as it drove away, moved around my patio furniture, and left the porch lights on.
Cops came by a couple days later investigating a robbery next door. Neighbor’s dark and empty house was the one that got knocked off. Gave them Kilroy’s description and the truck. Cops closed the case later in the week, catching the high-school-aged pick-up owner and three pals with a couple thousand in stolen electronics.

Lisae Boucher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Felix

True, that would be a more common way for thieves to pick their target. It’s just that most thieves just aren’t used to use social networks for picking their targets. Besides, most criminals became criminals simply because they had an opportunity to break the law. Still, not a good reason to be careless with your info…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m more surprised that 60% of twitter messages aren’t considered useless babble.

Looking at the way they break down the traffic I’m not surprised by the results, even if the authors are. The study authors started with a premise that twitter “was
being used predominantly for self‐promotion”. This is what they claim they intended to prove with this analysis. But they’ve restricted what they consider “self-promotion” to corporate promotion only, any individual self-promotion is relegated to the “pointless babble” category. If you find it surprising that a system designed for individuals to interact with each other has less than 6% corporate promotional messages on it then you really need to reconsider what you’re doing.

Maybe I’m wrong but I think this article should also be included in the “pointless babble” category.

BN says:

This could be a valid study if they find that approx. 40% of every persons tweets result in no gain.

In the example in the story a tweet about someone eating resulted in the author meeting up with them. This is an example of a tweet to a gain.

How about a tweet of someone using the washroom. Now lets imagine a fire breaks out and they are locked in. The tweet being noticed, saves a life. Unlikely perhaps but a tweet to a gain no less.

Even tweeting that you are breathing could result in the gain that someone could warn you to wear breathing protection. If they have some idea where you are at least. Unlikely but possible and with gain.

Yet in each scenario they sound stupid until you realize the gain that occurred. If no gain ever occurred, the argument could be postulated that they were pointless; but if even the smallest chance exists for it to prove of any value at all, its not worthless but a preparation.

I’m not a twitterer but it seems to me that complaining about it is stupid if you don’t use it. If you do accept a few messages not being directly relevant to you. I can guarantee it isn’t built to surround you alone.

Sarah says:

People keep inventing new social media because the old ones end up getting full of marketing people and spammers. So you’d think people would be happy that as in real life, Twitter is full of pointless babble. Most of our everyday conversation is pointless. So for it to be true social media, it should also be full of pointless babble. It’s only if you think everything you say is important that you’d get offended by the pointless part.

Ben Zayb says:

“the only really ‘pointless babble’ is in trying to determine how much of Twitter is pointless babble”

I believe it’s even more pointless to point out how pointless is pointing out the pointlessness of Twitter is. Then again, commenting on how pointless it is to point out the pointlessness of pointing out the pointlessness of Twitter is even more pointless.

Ay-aya! My head hurts!!!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...