Big Thoughts, General Technology, Social Computing, Technology

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

Since it started in late 2006, I’ve been a registered member of Twitter—the popular 140 character-limited microblogging service. However, I’ve only recently started to use it on a regular basis. I’ve suddenly found it quite useful. Many of the folks I socialize with are confounded by its value; they cannot see why people post the detail of their most inane activities and they are equally baffled by those that read the postings. I do neither of these things and yet I am able to derive value from it. To understand how, I thought it would be worthwhile to briefly outline the reasons why I think it is a rather compelling service.

While 40% of Twitter content is considered pointless babble according to this study:, the same report cited the combination of news, conversation, and pass-along value as approximately 40%. It is likely that the content of my interest falls into news and pass-along value, which appears to be around 12%. It is a small proportion of the content, but when you consider that tweets—the messages posted in Twitter—number around 50 million per day; suddenly 12% is a very large number. I don’t read a lot of what is on Twitter and frankly, I’m just not interested in most of it. However, the small group of people and organizations I follow disproportionally represent the 12% of content I am interested in.

So why would I read content posted on Twitter? There are three main categories that currently appeal to me. First is information that is newsworthy or timely. I find Twitter to be quite effective around alerting me to items of interest in a succinct manner. Typically a tweet will include a link for more information, but by scanning the initial tweet I can quickly determine whether following the link is worthwhile. The second category is getting a novel perspective from someone whose opinion I respect. The last category is pure entertainment. I follow a number of comedians and I find their random musings pleasantly diverting. Clearly there are many other reasons beyond my own why people read Twitter which include education, notifications, surveys, and fund-raising.

The final item I want to address is why someone like me would write a tweet (remember I’ve only been discussing why people read tweets so far). I think it’s highly flattering when someone decides to follow me on Twitter. My assumption is that they have made this choice because they believe I may repost other Tweets of value or I might have something of value to say myself. Without a scientific analysis, I would say the mix of my Tweets is 66/33 respectively. And while I don’t have millions of followers, I am always humbled when someone retweets (forwards) an original post of mine.

It’s too early to tell whether Twitter has staying power. But it’s evident that it is more than a novelty. Its current subscriber growth rate is spectacular, while its future is far from certain.

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