I grew up with an Apple ][ Plus. I know the unmistakable sound of a dial-up modem. I used Yahoo! when its URL was akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo. And, I purchased from Amazon.com when all it had were books on its virtual shelves.
Apparently, I'm old.
Perhaps, then, it should surprise absolutely no one but me (who’s obviously in denial about age), that I just don't "get" Twitter as an everyday utility.
And, I "get" most consumer Web services, content providers, technologies, etc. Even if I don’t use them, or use them frequently, I have the ability to step outside of myself and rationalize others’ heavy utilization of, and fascination with, them. Similarly, I am typically able to wrap my head around their utility; their potential; their opportunity; their challenges; and, their theoretical value propositions.
But, less so with Twitter.
I've tried. I have a handle (@sfdtotheb). I follow a healthy mix of ~130 others, including friends, industry heavy hitters, bloggers, media outlets, and companies. I’ve used it to distribute posts from One Blind Squirrel (including, ironically, this one). I’ve picked up a few random followers (God help them!). And, I log in / scroll through Tweets multiple times each day.
Yet, I still feel a bit lost and oddly annoyed most of the time I’m using the service. On some level, all I see when look at Twitter is line after line of floating statements (that I can’t follow / don’t care about) and inside jokes (that I also can’t follow / don’t care about) and “private” conversations (again, that I also can’t follow / don’t care about) and “@s” and “#s” and “RTs” and handles and links and... with a smattering of useful, insightful, intelligible comments, opinions, links, and articles sprinkled throughout.
And, this says nothing of Promoted Tweets.
It’s as if I’m missing the service’s requisite decoder ring (though, it’s possible that having it would still leave me as disappointed as Ralphie in, “A Christmas Story”).
While it may be blasphemous, I actually think Twitter’s value to me would increase (perhaps materially) if it had the ability to mandate a minimum number of characters per tweet, rather than a technology-defined maximum. While I’m always one for brevity, I think modestly longer posts could add important context to links/photos and allow for slightly more articulated opinions on subjects, while weeding out the far-too-easy-to-unleash senseless bursts that seem to clog my feed.
All that said, I clearly appreciate the enormous value of Twitter in the context of real-time, topic-specific, crowdsourced information. Natural disasters (e.g., Japan earthquake/tsunami). “Movements” (e.g., Arab Spring). Breaking news (e.g., Boston Marathon bombings/manhunt). Targeted question/answer sessions. Etc. Under the right circumstances, Twitter absolutely blows the doors off other sources of information.
But in my world, these types of use cases seem to be exceptions, rather than rules, that come around very infrequently. What am I supposed to do with it the other 358 days of the year?
I know I’m missing something (perhaps many things) about Twitter, because it’s highly unlikely that tens (or hundreds?) of millions of people around the globe use it almost religiously, if it didn’t provide incredibly meaningful value; so, I will keep at it, while awaiting my decoder ring.
In the meantime, feel free to use @sfdtotheb to air your suggestions, complaints, and thoughts or — just so it feels true to the platform for me — any fragments of your floating statements, “private” conversations, and inside jokes, etc., that you think I might find truly captivating.