Dear Twitter, we need a break

I’ve been falling out of love with Twitter in recent weeks, so much so I felt compelled to write about why.

I can definitely see the benefits of Twitter. Here are some:

  • It can be used to promote new blog posts, releases, products etc. In fact I have been invovled in using it as a marketing tool and it was invaluable.
  • You can create communities and easily find like minded people and those with shared interests (especially since the addition of Twitter lists).
  • I have ‘met’ some fantastic people via Twitter and enjoy conversing with them and learning from them.
  • It is perfect for utilising the knowledge and contacts of others. When I was made redundant the support of my Twitter pals and the number of job leads I received from them was incredible.
  • It is a good tool for encouraging healthy debate and sharing opinions.
  • It is a great platform for sharing wisdom, articles, asking questions and generally having access to a plethora of people that you would never normally be able to contact so easily.

Too easily?

But therein lays a problem. With many people able to connect so easily it leads to trouble. Here are some reasons I’m falling out of love with Twitter and please note that I have no quarms in admitting that I have been guilty of some of this myself too:

  • Tweets can be taken the wrong way by those reading them
  • People can make the tweets be about them and start unnecessary bickering
  • Tweets can be used to target others negatively in an anonymous way
  • Some tweeters seem to think that someone with a different opinion to them is wrong.
  • People can join in conversations on Twitter part way through and again, take things out of context
  • A lot of people moan on Twitter (I have) and sometimes you just don’t wanna see moany tweets in your stream
  • It is a breeding ground for snide remarks, flipant comments and if truth be told, bitchiness.

Truncated Communication.

I think a big contributor to these negative aspects of Twitter is what I call, truncated communication. We are restricted by 140 characters or less so we have to choose our words wisely. At times we have to omit words and this can have a big impact on what we are trying to say.

A word, or lack of, can change the context of a tweet or accidently make a tweet seem negative, aimed at specific people/groups, or cause knee-jerk reactions which create conflict when there is no need.

Tone of Voice.

It is so easy when reading tweets, and this applies to emails too, to misinterpret the tone of voice in which something was meant.

If I were sat opposite someone, my tone of voice would communicate if I was being sarcastic, saying something in jest or down right livid. With online communication we don’t have this luxury and whilst a tweet might be sent innocently, we have no control over how the readers of that tweet will interpret it.

A 😉 or a 🙂 helps at times but there aren’t always enough charcters to tack one of these on the end!

Too easy to respond,

When we see a tweet that might annoy us or upset us then it is too easy to type a response and post it. Once that moment of retaliation or anger has subsided it’s too late. The tweet is already out there in the public domain. That’s why it is so important that we should all think before we tweet.

Practicing what I preach.

I’ve been more mindful of how I tweet lately and I do use Twitter less than a few months ago. In fact I think I’m going to take a back seat from it for the foreseeable future, simply using it for new blog posts like this one. I will watch what is going on but don’t think I will contribute as much for a while.

Likewise I once lived happily not knowing what people were eating or watching, not knowing where they were going or have just returned from. I’m going to review the tweets of those I follow and see what, for me, is noise and what is of interest. I’m not in any way trying to tell people what they should tweet, it is freedom of speech and people can and should say what they like (provided it is considered) but does it bring value to my life? I’m not sure it does. I didn’t need this information before, so why now?

In short …

I suppose my issue isn’t with Twitter itself but those that use it. Maybe the answer is to change the people I follow? I guess that Twitter is the vessel through which this communication flows and perhaps unfairly I am shooting the messenger here.

That said, I might start to fall in love with Twitter again after a cooling off period but for now it’s moving down my list of communication tools and I won’t be opening Twitterific this week in work. I will of course be using it to promote this blog post and if someone shares something of interest then I will click the link or retweet and so on but I’m afraid dear Twitter than for now at least, you will be sleeping on the sofa!

Am I overreacting? Please share your thoughts below.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark Boulton on November 8, 2009 at 13:32

    I think, unfortunately, it’s human nature. On every free, open platform, you get Trolls. Twitter does make the bad things about email worse (lack of tone, immediacy etc), but I think if you offer your thoughts on Twitter, then you’re right, you need to be able to take snidey, bitchy comments on the chin. It’s natural human behaviour. And, good things can come from that too.

    It’d be a shame if you vanished. If the trolls are getting you down (and they get us all down sometimes) – don’t feed them, don’t give them what they want (to drive you from interacting or participating) and take it all with a big, fat pinch of salt. It really doesn’t matter.


  2. Nice post and well articulated. I agree with much of what you say. I don’t think it’s just Twitter where you find this happening though. As you point out emails and blog posts/comments can be misinterpretted as anyone who has been flamed or trolled will agree! Difference of opinion is natural but people need to grow a thick skin if they are putting their opinions out there. Likewise, some people need to learn some manners. Me included sometimes.


  3. Posted by houdini on November 8, 2009 at 14:42

    Maybe rethinking you following list will do the job. Maybe reading your own tweeting history will help too. You complain about people talking about themselves and moaning but on the 200- people I follow, you’re one of the best at doing so. And once again you complain about how you feel bad about all this, in a long post.

    I am not willing to say bad things here but I finally am not surprised, nor really interested. Maybe your twitter is just intendend to be followed by people who knows you personally. For the others, it’s a lot of garbage for one good link or thought on design.

    Twitter has many more possible usages than the ones you’ re thinking about. I see users successfully making it a conversational medium, I see statements, but it’s not the whole picture.

    The whole world talk on Twitter, and you’re centering your attention on a few you follow. They can’t be consistent to please you, they didn’t even ask you to follow even if their ego was flattered.

    Instead, why don’t you try to rely exclusively on searches for a while ? You’ve for sure done it before, but exclusively? Empty your following list, find the best client to run multiple searches, narrow them to the max to get super specific result, in another words be proactive on what you want to find on it. Don’t let the tweets come to you, don’t be enslaved by others immediate thoughts.

    Twitter must be a hell for people not using it for business or not passionated by specific topics. Everyday life tweets are painful. I precedently unfollowed mister Boulton because of the low ratio of excellent design thoughts and links versus everyday trains and planes and hotel and slideshows drama. No offense mister Boulton, I simply thought this was not for me, not juging you about your tweets. I still follow your other followable things, for the best.


    • Posted by Mark Boulton on November 8, 2009 at 21:12

      I think you you may have a different view to others on what we use Twitter for. Twitter itself asks the question ‘what are you doing?’, not ‘what interesting design link or fact would you like to share with your followers’. Twitter’s beauty is its ability for you to feel close to people and to get a glimpse of their lives. If it’s links your after, I suggest you read Smashing Magazine.

      Rob, I for one look forward and enjoy you tweets about you dogs, sunsets on the beach and your quick reviews of films good and bad. If you started posting links about just design and media stuff, I’d be off.

      You shouldn’t care about you followers. You should tweet because you want to, not because you want to please somebody. It’s a free country and a free medium. You say what you like.


      • I totally agree with Mark I am afraid houdini. Twitter asks the question ‘what are you doing?’ not ‘what would you like to hear’ if you don’t like what you hear go elsewhere.

        Keep up the interesting tweets Rob it is what twitter is all about 🙂

  4. Posted by Robert Mills on November 8, 2009 at 17:40

    Thanks for the comments.

    Houdini – If you feel I moan then unfollow me (if you haven’t already) I also didn’t ask you to follow me, but as my post above states, I accepted that I am guilty of some of the negative aspects of Twitter behaviour which is exactly why I am taking some time to think about how I use it.

    I looked through the most recent 3 pages of my tweets and would hardly say it was rife with moaning tweets, quite the opposite but if that is your opinion of my tweets then that is fair enough.

    I don’t expect people to tweet just to please me, again my post above states that I appreciate that people can tweet what they like and that I too have often tweeted about my dogs, where I have been etc etc but that is exactly why I am rethinking how I use Twitter. I would never dismiss people’s tweets as ‘a lot of garbage’ as you have mine in your response.

    I do think your suggestion of using the search function more is a good one and I’m not sure how/if you have been using Twitter lists but I think these bring much more value to the platform.

    My post doesn’t claim to be a definitive critique of Twitter, just sharing some of my recent experiences of it. I totally appreciate that my usage of it and those that I follow is but a miniscule percentage of all the Twitter activity. I can only speak from experience though.

    Your response seems to hint at the idea that you get out what you put in and therefore it seems I am right to review how I use Twitter. Shame you didn’t include your Twitter username though.


  5. I did a cull of Facebook “friends” a few months ago, getting rid of randoms from Twitter and people had never met or only met once and have never spoken to again.
    Since this I now hardly use it. I don’t spend all day and night reading junk from people I don’t know and it has improved my life.
    I would agree that changing your followers is definitly a good place to start.


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