The timing of this column is unfortunate. I don’t like to jump on bandwagons by writing about what everyone else is writing about, and right now there seems to be a tremendous amount of ink being spilled over Twitter. So why join the chatter?
Well, because in the last week of February a client I do some research work for suggested I should try Twitter out, and it seemed like a good idea at least to open an account and have a look.
I have been using LinkedIn for a while, but not extensively, and I have a Facebook page that I mostly ignore. Twitter, it seemed to me, was very much at the teenagers-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands end of social networking – a way to bombard your friends with updates about the movie you’re about to see, the club you’re in – or, if you’re a little older, maybe what cute thing your cat just did.
In fact, it is all that. Even some fairly prominent professional types are not above tweeting (the Twitter term for sending a text message of less than 140 characters to everyone who follows you) about heading off the gym at lunch or watching their kids play sports.
But Twitter has some other uses. Passing on links to interesting online news items, for instance. This is actually useful. None of us has time to troll through all the Web sites that may contain useful information, and most of the time I can’t even keep up with my RSS feeds. By following a few colleagues’ tweets, as well as the Twitter presences of news organizations like TechMeme and BBC Technology News, I will usually see a mention of anything interesting happening in the technology world pretty quickly.
To my surprise, Twitter also turns out to work as a tool for finding information, and even sources for stories. The day I wrote this column, I tweeted about the fact that I was looking around for small businesses making use of Twitter, and I got a good response within the hour. And I’ve been involved in a couple of interesting – though short — discussions via Twitter.
There is a downside too. Twitter is addictive. You think you’ll take a quick look at it before settling down to the next thing you need to do, and 20 minutes later you’re still messing around. There is a really good name for this – which I heard about in a Tweet from author Don Tapscott – it’s called “social notworking.”
Sometimes Twitter helps get things done. Sometimes it distracts from getting things done. Once, after a couple of days of this, I made a point of avoiding it for the entire day. I’ve also stopped following a couple of people because of the volume of unhelpful tweets they sent. And I’m selective about who I follow.
Once you’re on Twitter, you feel a certain responsibility to say something now and then. So I take time to look for interesting items online to point out via tweets.
Like other social networking tools, Twitter could be a big time-waster. I’m convinced some constant twitterers will soon realize they’re wasting too much time. But somewhat to my surprise, I find it has some value.
But I’ve never tweeted about a cat. Even when one is standing in front of my screen.