To say I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter doesn’t even scratch the surface. I find the tool itself to be fascinating, useful and a focus of my day. But it’s also frustrating. As it approaches the tipping point of becoming a mass media I get the same feeling from it that I got from Second Life a social-media-lifetime ago. Twitter is a tool with great promise, but seems to shoot itself in the foot whenever it tries to reach that promise.
So what follows are the five things I hate about Twitter, followed tomorrow by the five things I love about Twitter.
- Who needs a business model? – Perhaps nothing frustrates me more than the fact that Twitter can’t seem to find any way to earn money. Worse, no one at Twitter seems to care. Since we’re talking about a service on which so many people are relying, it would be kind of like AT&T, in the early days of phone service, saying “we’re not going to worry about making money, we just want people to talk on the phone.” If Twitter runs out of cash all the servers go dark and all this work people are doing to build a following is for naught. Thanks guys.
- Numbers, numbers everywhere – People love seeing their Twitter follower numbers grow. It’s a badge of honor but also gives actual figures to the idea of “I’m more popular than you.” The only problem is that it really doesn’t mean anything. Sure, you could have 800,000 followers, but how many are engaged in what you’re doing on any given day? And if you’re following more than 1,000 people do you have any idea what someone says? Lists make this a little easier, but those will get unwieldy too. Analytics companies are starting to downplay the follower numbers and look at other factors, such as how often you’re retweeted or whether people mention your name. But none of this gets to the core issue of influence, which is much more difficult to measure. Still, numbers give the illusion of measurement when none really exists.
- That's what she said... – It’s great to get retweeted, what a wonderful feeling. Someone loved what I said so much that they wanted to say it too! Yay! I’m a retweeter, that is, when I think something is relevant to my specific audience. But I’ve seen people become retweet central, in which most of their Tweets are not their own, but someone else’s tweets. In the news business people decry “pack journalism,” the idea that everyone covers the same story the same way. To me, retweeting is much the same idea. It doesn’t add anything new to the conversation, it’s just an echo. Why have your own audience if you’re just going to repeat someone else’s words? Worse, getting retweeted is a measure of how influential you are on Twitter, so we need to be retweeted to make up for the fact that the follower numbers really mean very little.
- Those features aren't half-baked, they're just chewy – Twitter Lists came along and got pushed out to users long before it was fully baked. Yeah, lists are great (more on that tomorrow) but as of this writing there is no way to search list titles or descriptions and application developers weren’t given time to fully integrate lists into their services before it went live. So if you develop a list on Twitter, it doesn’t show up in Tweetdeck or on Seesmic, which for most of us is how we use Twitter (not the Website). Worse, Twitter didn’t take time to consider how they may be able to make money on lists, such as letting people max out at, say, 10 uses on a list but charging for more additions (see number 1). Not to mention that adding people to the lists is a clunky process. And yes, I know it's technically in "beta," but let's be real here, beta doesn't mean what it used to.
- The non-techie barrier – Non-techies just don’t understand the language we Tweeters use as if it were AP Style. All the @ names and hashtags look terrifying to a new user, not to mention all the abbreviations made necessary by the 140 character limit. Then there is the time problem; in order to get the true value of Twitter you need it running all day long. Like a toddler in need of constant attention, it sits on your desktop or mobile device spitting out new information just waiting to be retweeted. If you’re a non-techie, do you really need this constant influx of information? For most the answer is an unequivocal "no."
Tomorrow I turn this all around and share the love. But in the meantime, what do you hate about Twitter?