Is all the fuss about Twitter much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare put it? Is Twitter the crack of the Internet, as my friend Mark puts it? Is it a useful way of staying connected to friends, and keeping track of your thoughts — as Tara “Miss Rogue” Hunt has said? Or is it a waste of time designed for the self-obsessed and those with short attention spans or attention-deficit disorders? Is it all Robert Scoble’s fault?

The answer to all of those questions, of course, is yes. Except for the Scoble one; I don’t really have an opinion on that, although I will point out that the Third Law of the Blogosphere reads: “When in doubt, blame Robert Scoble.” I wrote a bit about the Twitter phenomenon a few days ago, in this post, and described it as “noise, but also signal,” and I’m sticking with that.

Twitter.com may seem like a throwaway fad — the Hula Hoop or Pet Rock of Web 2.0 — and perhaps it is. But I also think it is another piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding how we relate to each other in an online world, and how those relationship mechanisms are changing. Instant messaging and Second Life and blogs and Digg and Facebook are all pieces of that puzzle too.

Can Twitter be irritating? Of course it can. So can email, and so can the telephone or a conversation in a bar. But we still use or engage in those things. It’s worthwhile remembering that even Alexander Graham Bell never expected the phone to be used for business — he saw it as an entertainment device. I wonder what he would have thought of Twitter.

Further reading:

The always insightful Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users has a great post looking at the benefits but also the downside of a “continuous partial attention” app such as Twitter and its potential effect on our lives.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

11 Responses to “Twitter to live, but don’t live to Twitter”
  1. Good point to separate the technology from the messages.

  2. Great title. I think I probably would have gone with the …er … root word in Twitter. Still far from convinced. Just because we already have distractions doesn’t mean there aren’t already too many, IMO. Stowe would no doubt say go with the Flow. Me, I think we’re kind of drowning in Flow.

  3. “But I also think it is another piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding how we relate to each other in an online world, and how those relationship mechanisms are changing.”

    Excellent, excellent point. There’s a lot to be learned from the Twitter story–now and however it plays out down the road– even for those of us who don’t like Twitter.

  4. Thanks, Kathy — I would definitely agree. And thanks for stopping by to comment.

  5. Unlike email and cell phones, Twitter is pure distraction. As if we weren’t ADDed enough already. It will serve to divide us further – between those who actually do and create (which usually means turning off most communications devices), and those who simply want to feel they’re participating in “the flow” in some way. For those who already feel like their full time job has devolved into answering and sending email, do we need any more noise? Maybe we need personal assistants to twitter for us?

  6. Mathew, I started out as fairly ambivalent about Twitter, but the more I use it, the more I like it. I really like your take on it as another piece of the puzzle. For some people it is and will continue (in my view) to meet a need for staying connected and communicating in an ever frenzied world. And, sure, that will have negative consequences for some.

    But for me, at the least, it’s been an enjoyable way to take part in the great online conversation. I can see using it as part news reader, part e-mail, and part casual ongoing diary.

    And let’s not discount the fun factor. All web 2.0 and no play makes for a dull blogosphere (or something!).

  7. i blame robert scoble for this post…

  8. It’s the proof of concept of 15 minutes of fame theory to the -4 power

  9. It’s chat for autists.

    (And I like it.)

  10. Love the pet rock wisecrack! I’m one who finds even my email notifier too much distraction much of the time. But there is something appealing about Twitter. And occassionally useful. And you can go to it on your terms – on the web, when you need a break – not on IM or phone, God forbid.

  11. Like you I wasn’t impressed with Twitter until the locals here in Blogsboro learned some worthwhile uses for Twitter:
    1. http://bloggingpoet.squarespace.com/bloggingpoetcom/2007/3/17/invented-in-silicone-valley-but-made-useful-by-blogsboro.html

    2. http://bloggingpoet.squarespace.com/bloggingpoetcom/2007/3/18/blogsboro-ups-the-twitter-bar-again.html

    By the way, Stumbleupon is the real Internet crack. ;-)

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