What Twitter Is, and What It’s Not

by on April 20, 2009

So I have been exploring the world of Twitter since last fall. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of what I have learned about Twitter. This is my attempt to explain how twitter is similar and dissimilar to services out there already.

First the basics, Twitter is a communication tool that has the following characteristics:

  1. Allows you to create updates (tweets) of up to 140 characters.
  2. If you don’t protect your updates, anyone can view these posts.
  3. If you follow someone, you see their posts in your twitter stream.
  4. If someone follows you, they see your posts in their twitter stream.
  5. If you block someone, they will not see your updates in their Twitter stream, but they can still see your updates if they look for them, if your updates are not protected (see #2).

Twitter is Like Blogging

In fact, the first description I heard of Twitter is that it is micro-blogging.

  • You post your message for all the world to see (unless you protect your updates).
  • Folks can comment on your posts.

Twitter is Not Like Blogging

  • Each post is limited to 140 characters.
  • No text formatting.
  • No embedded graphics (though you can add links).
  • Comments on your tweet do not stay with your original tweet. So you can’t easily see folks reaction to an update like you would by looking at the comments section of a blog post.

Twitter is Like IM

I have also heard Twitter compared to Instant Messaging.

  • It’s instantaneous. Unless the Fail Whale makes an appearance, as soon as you send a tweet, it can be viewed.
  • It’s conversational. You can carry on conversations with other Twitters out there.
  • It’s ephemeral. Tweets can be easily forgotten days, hours, or even minutes after they are sent. They compete with all the other tweets for attention.

Twitter is Not Like IM

  • It’s not threaded. Techy-speak for pointing out that you can’t easily see the context of an individual tweet. Some clients provide an in Reply to link when some replies to a tweet, but not all clients support them, or display them.
  • It lasts forever. Sure, folks may forget about the tweet in minutes, but they are searchable. Any tweet you have ever sent can be looked up. Some services even seem to keep tweets you deleted from your Twitter account.

Twitter is Like Facebook

Recently, Facebook has even made changes so that their service is more like Twitter. Which, incidentally,  I think was a poor choice. I like both services for their unique attributes, and do not think a Twitbook of Faceter would be a better solution.

  • You can connect to folks you know, or wish to know, by following them.
  • You can post updates to let friends and colleagues know what you are up to.
  • When folks follow you, you can see who they are.

Twitter is Not Like Facebook

  • Unless you protect your updates, anyone can see your updates without your express permission.
  • Unless you protect your updates, anyone can see your updates even if you block them.
  • You can be stalked if folks view your tweets without following you, they just won’t automatically see them.
  • There are no annoying innovative applications to add to your Twitter page.

So that’s my 2 cents. I would love to hear others comments on Twitter, good and bad. Feel free to comment. Unfortunately due to extensive comment spam, you will have to wait for me to approve. I will be happy to approve comments pointing out what a moron I am, if it has some good info, but not so much comments linking to cheap Viagra.

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