Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Army of Cats Guide to Twitter Annoyances

I am an avid Twitter user, I think it's great. 

Twitter allows you follow a constant stream of information on whatever subject matter interests you; to connect with like-minded individuals; to get involved with new projects; but most of all to be able to do all this in a concise and manageable way. Mostly.

Sometimes, though, Twitter makes me grumble like a cranky old man. For no real reason other than to get them off my chest, here are the things that I grumble at the most:

1. Direct Messages are not a replacement for email

Though this list is by no means in order of magnitude of annoyance, this definitely deserves to be mentioned first.

Direct Messages are a handy means of passing on information to a specific individual without it cluttering up your main timeline of tweets BUT they aren't actually a very effective means of correspondence.

If someone DMs me about something that requires more than 140 characters worth of discussion, then I will politely request that they drop me an email (and of course provide my email address). Why? Because I don't want to be bound by the 140 character limit, and because I like to have my work/project communications all in one place, and because I use Gmail's various little tools to organise my work, AND because having to send multiple DMs back and forth is just bloody stupid!

On a few occasions now, I have made a polite request to switch the dialogue over to email only to have the other person completely ignore this and continue to send further DMs, usually asking questions that cannot possibly be answered within 140 characters.  I've actually had one DM-athon where I requested that the other person email me THREE times, before I eventually gave up and simply stopped responding altogether.

I am utterly baffled by this behaviour.

2. Attempting to use Twitter to instigate in-depth debate

Similar to the above, this basically boils down to understanding what Twitter is good for, and what it is not good for.

The denizens of the Twitter universe can be very knowledgeable and helpful. Sending out a tweet saying, "Hey guys, where's a good place to buy novelty hats in London?" will no doubt inundate you with practical suggestions on how best to facilitate your London-based, novelty hat buying needs.

Sending out a tweet asking people to engage in a multi-layered discussion about... well anything... basically results in: a lack of clarity in the question being asked, lots of truncated responses to various interpretations of the question, and no means of keeping everything on one page or in one place, or in a relevant thread.  Not only that but you lose the input from some people who may have had something valuable to share but are put off by the limitations of trying to use Twitter as a vehicle for this sort of detailed discussion.

To add icing to an already idiotic cake, the original author of the Tweet will often decide to retweet choice responses to the question to their followers, meaning you end up feeling involved in the discussion even if it was something you had no real interest in.

Here's an idea: set up a proper forum for meaningful discussion and just tweet the ruddy link.

3. Conversations between two people which have absolutely nothing of value to anyone else who might be following them

There's nothing wrong with a quick back-and-forth, but as soon as it becomes a full blown conversation, just take it to email. It's not that interesting that the whole internet needs to know. You do know that you're essentially posting to everyone, right?

4. People who constantly go over the character limit

Using services like basically means you can go over the character limit and a link will provide readers with the text which overspilled from your tweet.  Perfectly fine when the situation calls for it but people who do this regularly are sort of missing the point of Twitter. Perhaps just get a blog?

5. Endless self-promotion

My favourite Twitter users are the ones that share cool or interesting links, post daft photos, whimsical thoughts or responses, sometimes talk about what they've had for lunch, and also update the world on the work they produce or the thing that they do. The key thing here is that they share some of their personality in their tweets, they don't just use them as little advertising slots to mention when something goes on sale or to spam about some event or other.

If you do insist on trying to use Twitter solely for marketing and PR, here's a website I would like to recommend:

6. Retweeting the tweet of someone who just retweeted your tweet

This is a somewhat new phenomenon in my experience but one that appears to be on the increase. 

User A sends out a tweet to their followers. User B retweets it to their followers. User A then retweets User B's tweet, even though it is exactly the same as the original tweet they sent out to their followers perhaps only moments earlier.

OK, I get that sometimes people like to advertise that so-and-so retweeted them, but at least do it in the form of a 'thank you' rather than essentially sending out the same thing twice. Essentially sending out the same thing twice.


By way of a caveat, I am by no means the authority on how Twitter should be used, nor is there even a set of rules on the matter. Use Twitter however you find it most valuable to do so... but, like all media, never ignore your audience.

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