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Twitter, What Is It Good For?

I ran across a Twitter policy page today that made me begin to think about my own use of the site and precisely what I use it for.

If you’ve been reading for a while (thanks!) you know that I have a complicated history with Twitter. I went from a Twitter skeptic to a person who recognized it’s value, though the latter post was mostly tongue-in-cheek because of the older one.

Lately, I’ve found it’s still useful but not in the same ways it once was. I never enjoyed Twitter solely as a means for communication, because it comes attached with a lot of the things that plague instant messenger (IM) conversations for me. Namely that the start can often be abrupt and the ending may be worse. I tend to like starts and finishes. I don’t really need definition, but I do like context. With both Twitter and IM, it can be short and pithy. Which works to some degree, but only sometimes.

Social networks have their place, but I eventually get fatigued of them and have to take a break. For all of the talk of the Zuckerberg internet hegemon in recent months, Facebook is the only one that handles this well. You need a break, you can deactivate and come back with everything intact. It’s handy for people who just decide to step away. When I finally canned my LinkedIn profile a few years back, they do send you an email saying that they have to delete your profile if you’re over a certain number of contacts; but in the email they don’t ask if you’re sure you want to delete. They just let you know when it’s deleted. I came back once more and then ditched it again, though I didn’t have that many connections and I’m back again now though I’m not actively adding people. If I get requests, I add them and if not, I don’t. 

Anyway, on this Twitter thing. These days, I’m just not using it as much. If I had to summarize what I’ve viewed Twitter as from the start, it’d go something like this:

  1. Interacting with interesting professional people who I don’t have a lot of contact with in my everyday life.
  2. Staying connected to news on a different frequency. 
  3. Maintaining a presence as proxy for communicate with people who might share my interests, but who I may never meet in person.

The overwhelming majority of my friends don’t use it, I’ve taken to mandating each student in the community college class I teach create an account (but don’t ask them to use their real names if they don’t to) because I want to demystify what seems to be one of the most misunderstood social web tools; despite the fever pitch Twitter still seems to have lots of people in stitches about how best to use it.

Personally, I find I’ve used Twitter a lot less now than I did when I worked full-time in higher ed. I feel like I have less to say and what I do have to say, might not be as relevant to the majority of my followers, but this owes to the fact that the majority of my followers are higher ed folks and I haven’t gone out of my way to diversify my follower base beyond that.

Twitter has proven to be the most useful social network for me in my professional life and those who follow trends understand it’s value extends well beyond just the professional and the personal. It’s noisier than it once was and I find it’s ubiquity a bit frustrating, but it’s value seems longer lasting. I’ll continue to use it and suspect my usage will adapt further based on what I choose to do and where I choose to do it.

What about you?