My one-month Twitter Twial

twitter-logo.jpgIf you read other journalism blogs, it’s Twitter this Twitter that. Twitter Twitter Twitter. Twitter will cure cancer. Twitter will save the world. Twitter is the now, Twitter is the future, Twitter will replace oxygen.

There’s a near-consensus out there, coming from a lot of people who I highly respect. People I align myself with on virtually every Web-related issue.

That’s why it feels so strange to disagree so strongly on this single issue.

I’ve just never bought the Twitter talk. I’ve never agreed that it would be at all useful for my reporting. I’ve never believed it would have any application to my social life.

But how can I ignore all those reliable voices when I’ve never tried it?

With that in mind, yesterday I began my Twitter Twial.

For one month, I’m going all-out. I started following all my favorite j-bloggers (and in return got a few followers who’ve likely never heard of me). I searched for locals. I searched for friends. I added a link to my Twitter page in my Facebook profile, and the Contact page on this blog.

I installed the Twitbin add-on to my Firefox browser at work and at home. I added a Twitter widget to display my latest Tweets on the blog here. I will feed links to my blog posts into Tweets. I’ve Twittered several times a day. I’ve had conversations there.

I’m going to give it my all for a full month. I’m going to keep an open mind for a full month. Then I’ll revisit this post and see if I’ve changed my mind about my two main skepticisms:

1) There just aren’t enough local users to help my reporting. The lack of net-savvy users in my area isn’t in my imagination. Twitterlocal found exactly one Tweet from my paper’s circulation area in the past 24 hours. And that came from someone I had already found through her blog. (A search on the Twitter site itself turns up slightly better results, but not much better.)

In my coverage area of Hershey, Pa., there isn’t a single active user.

And I’m not the only one complaining about the lack of bloggers/social media users in the area — two of the few we have, Brian Polensky and Jersey Mike — beat me to it.

If there aren’t enough people to learn from, there isn’t much of a point in me being there. I’m not going to insult or annoy the local users I do add by using my account as a link dump.

2) There just aren’t enough users to improve my social life. The only “real person” — that is, someone I’ve met in real life — with an account is a fellow reporter who shares my Twitter skepticism but is also curious about it. I asked all my friends, via my Facebook status, if anyone else was on it. No response, and searching through my friends didn’t turn any users up. So using the site to improve relationships with current friends seems pretty out of the question.

Last night, seeing Digidave ask via a Tweet if anyone was up for a 9 p.m. Taco Bell run helped me understand why it’d be such a great tool for him, and why I may never get to that point. (If only you lived in Harrisburg, Dave — I’m always up for a TB run.)

As it stands, Twitter strikes me as a great idea that only works in certain areas. Admittedly, Meranda Watling — probably my favorite blogger because I can better relate to the size of her paper and town than most of the other bloggers out there — makes me think twice about that claim.

That’s why I’m really giving this a serious try. I’m very willing to be proven wrong on this.

  • I avoided Twitter like the black plague for a long time. Then people I had been following online were talking it up so I bit the bullet. I have to say I am a bit obsessed with it.

    It is weird. I have real life friends, internet friends, and a few that bridge the gap. I guess it is because the Social/New Media scene in our area is so dead, the social embrace you are looking for doesn’t actually happen.

    Twitter does have many useful purposes, and I hope you enjoy them. I update my family and friends every time I post. For instance, I was n the hospital a few weeks ago awaiting the birth of my second son. I twittered from the hallway before I went in to the OR (Caesarian). My friends in Boston saw the tweets and it brightened their day. Boston is a town that really embraces Social media. I was there in October for Podcamp Boston 2. Twitter was such a useful tool that whole weekend. People would tweet about different sessions going on or where a gathering for food was going. It’s a great way to stay in touch that I totally embrace. I didn’t quite get it until I really was using it for a while.

    Good luck with your twitter experiment. Hopefully soon the midstate will embrace new technology like this.

  • A few thoughts: I was very skeptical of Twitter at first. I thought the entire premise was dumb. And the userbase so small, especially in my circles, for it to be inconsequential. Even today, my co-workers and editor enjoy making fun of the idea of it more than they would ever try to “get it.” Yet, it somehow has become a major part of my online routine, not so much for reporting, but it has come in handy there as well.

    Yesterday, for example, I basically live-blogged a local Bill Clinton event for our paper’s Web site and managed to get off some Twitter updates throughout the night… My managing editor, who followed me to Wired Journalists and Twitter, even gave me some kudos and mentioned my work for our site AND Twitter in our daily memo as examples of the type of coverage we should be looking to provide. I bet half the newsroom, including my immediate editor who wasn’t watching Twitter, were scratching their heads about it.

    Re: Improving your real-life friendships. Use the facebook twitter app to push your status updates to facebook. I never update my status on facebook anymore, yet everyone from my siblings back home to my college professors to my friends thousands of miles away knows what I’m up to and what type of day I’m having because they can read my twitter updates there. This has also caused several of them to create their own twitter account to do the same.

    I didn’t go looking for locals, but several locals found me. It helps that we have a major research university here with tech-savvy people. But one of my followers, and one whom I interact with on Twitter pretty frequently — including across the gym during the Clinton event — is a city council member, whom I had never met until after we were following each others tweets.

    To start, try searching for your key areas/topics at http://twitdir.com/index.php?search=Hershey%2C+PA or for updates near you at http://www.twitterlocal.net/

    Here’s the best list/resource for journalism on Twitter I’ve seen yet: http://www.newmediabytes.com/2008/01/18/best-twitter-tools-resources-and-clients-guide/

    GOOD LUCK!

  • Samantha Guss

    I get the impression that Twitter is also a big deal among librarians/information scientists, with similar buzz about potential (but not-yet-realized)implications for improving our work. To answer one of my own questions, I just signed up, and without much effort found a few of my own librarian friends twittering. So I’m going to try it too so I can compare your impressions with my own (or become addicted, or hate it…whichever comes first).

    Both of your skepticisms are totally reasonable, but both are issues of critical mass, right? Tools like facebook or even the blogosphere wouldn’t be useful or interesting if no one used them either, and internet time is fast, but not instantaneous. I hope you won’t give up Twitter or declare it useless just because you are one of the first in your area/group of friends.

    My suspicion was confirmed that new users aren’t prompted for their location–instead it’s buried in Settings. So easy to change and yet so hard to make people do (even though geography is actually one of the more important aspects of Twitter). Only about half of my librarian friends have entered a location and those are the LIBRARIANS. It is well known among archivists that user-generated metadata is a huge uphill battle, but facebook doesn’t seem to have a problem–how can Twitter encourage its users to make it more useful for themselves? Anyway, I don’t know what kinds of users you are looking for, but I suspect there are more, and maybe lots more, in your area that just haven’t bothered to enter their location. I hope you find them!

  • Having used Twitter for quite some time now, I have to say I almost completely agree with you. I started using Twitter because I wanted to hear what some of my favorite bloggers (all development related) had to say during the day. Tuns out they’re interesting people, but the signal to noise ratio is so low for most that I generally just stop following them or ignore their Tweets.

    Then there’s another breed of Twitter users that I simply cannot stand. The type who post completely irrelevant information that no one on the Internet — save perhaps stalkers — care to know. Posts like “eating lunch”, “going to bed”, “good morning!”, “i can’t find my hair brush”, etc. Now I’m not condemning them. They can use Twitter however they feel. They’re just the type of people I have no interest in following and I remove them rather quickly.

    There are some people I really enjoy following like John Resig (jresig) who almost always posts relevant content that I care to read. Joshua Allen (fireland) is so screwed up and off-the-wall but his writing is hilarious — sometimes offensively funny, but still funny.

    I think asking the users the question “What are you doing?” leads to irrelevant content. No one really cares what you’re doing unless you’re working on regenerative medicine to regrow human limbs or you just discovered life on another planet.

    If I keep my content focused on what I think people actually care to hear, I think it’s a more productive use of the Twitter service.

    Good luck in your Twitter endeavor!

  • Another good use of Twitter that I failed to mention is as a notification service. For example, any time Steve Jobs talks there’s a bunch of sites like Engadget or The Unofficial Apple Weblog that are at the event live-blogging it on their sites and also via Twitter.

    You also have sites like woot.com who announce when a new product is posted to their site and when that product is sold out. During a woot-off it’s especially useful.

    Of course this assumes that Twitters servers are relatively stable. If you’ve used Twitter for any period of time, you know this is the furthest from the truth. When you get thousands of people Twittering about the Steve Jobs keynote at WWDC, Twitter dies. Hard. After the keynote is over and the smoke has cleared, Twitter will resurrect.

    Then there’s the case of the missing replies but that’s just being picky. Oh the joys of Twitter!

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