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Personal Conversation Fail Whale

April 20, 2009

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I love being able to get lots of information in a short amount of time, and I love the personal connection I feel with some authors/celebrities who tweet (who tweet well, with cool pictures or insights and not just PR junk.) I love keeping track of some organizations or friends who crack me up in 140 characters or less.

What I don’t love is the amount of “noise” that Twitter seems to have. I don’t understand how anyone reads Tweets without Tweetdeck or some other organizer. And I worry about anyone who follows more than 300 or so people – how is it possible to have any sort of meaningful connection?

Part of what contributes to the “noise” for me is the replies to other people. If the other person isn’t someone I follow, then I see a tweet from someone with no context. If it seems compelling, then I end up kind of backtracking and seeing the replied-to person’s tweets and see what they said. Usually, its not worth my time. And then I start to wonder, if I can’t follow the conversation, why are people tweeting this stuff in the first place?

Why tweet instead of DM (direct message)? Or send an email instead or an IM? I had an interesting and weird conversation over Tweet, IM and in person with a colleague.  I tweeted that I was reading a book, and then she tweet-replied, asking my opinion. I gave it (through tweet) because I thought it made sense in context – I mean, I tweeted about something, and then a few minutes later I explained why I liked it. Then, the person Instant Messaged me about something work related. We spoke. Then, in the break room, we mentioned our tweets and expanded the conversation.


It seemed normal enough when it was happening, but why did we have this conversation on so many mediums? If she wanted to know what I thought of the book, why did she choose to ask me publicly?  (Which begs the question – why do I feel the need to tell the entire internet when I read a book?) Please believe me when I say that none of this is a critique of my colleague – I am just as guilty of it as times, and I wonder if it is something to even be guilty of. Why do we feel the need to have a conversation “publicly”? Do we want people to know we are discussing something – even if its totally inconsequential? Does the world need to know I have a strong opinion on Step Up 2 The Streets? Isn’t it annoying to see me update my status to reply to someone else, who you don’t even know to congratulate her on going to the gym?

I find myself going nuts sometimes, because I want to respond to someone, but I don’t want everyone else to know what I am saying – and I can’t DM because they don’t follow me. Or maybe direct messaging just feels too personal in an impersonal medium. Is what I want to say worth saying? Would an email be better -or god forbid, a phone call?

I think sometimes Twitter is just too public for me. And I gather that’s what most people like about it.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2009 4:40 pm

    Today I went back looking for my first tweet, but in looking back at my history I’ve noticed how much more I’ve had to say since more people who interest me have joined. I say a lot of throwaway things and think I’m sometimes funny, but sometimes not.
    I really don’t think Twitter is meant to be a very personal thing. That’s why DMing people is hard esp. when both parties are not following each other. But, for some reason, a DM seems a lot less personal than an e-mail and is certainly less personal than a phone call. The things people say on Twitter are really only meant to be party things, things you would say in front of a room full of people.

  2. April 20, 2009 4:44 pm

    But you wouldn’t yell out at a party a response to a question that someone else whispered in your ear. That’s kind of what Twitter feels like to me.

    • April 20, 2009 6:40 pm

      No, you wouldn’t but Twitter isn’t exactly on par with physical social interaction. What is awkward in one context isn’t in another. But I understand what you are saying, sometimes things feel private and should be private but often online people feel comfortable saying things that are better left in a singular setting.

      BTW, have you seen this:

  3. April 20, 2009 4:55 pm

    Interesting. For me, I just don’t think about it that hard. Also, some people that I’ve connected with over twitter or various blogs…I don’t necessarily have their emails. So I guess it’s a convenience thing.

    But then again, there are definitely people (tweople? tweeps, whatever) who are very calculated about that kind of stuff. What they tweet, how they tweet, how often…because it increases their visibility and traffic to the blog and their overall brand. I’m guessing, anyway. I’m no expert. 🙂

  4. April 20, 2009 10:15 pm

    Yes! You wrote exactly what I’ve been thinking and wondering about. I think I just am not fully a Twitter person, at least not yet, because I just don’t get this aspect of it. I keep thinking there’s some piece of information that I’m missing, and if I can figure out what it is, it’ll all click into place for me.

  5. April 20, 2009 10:21 pm

    “If the other person isn’t someone I follow, then I see a tweet from someone with no context.”

    My understanding is you only see @ replies if you follow the person being replied-to. Of course, if they don’t START the tweet with “@” then all bets are off.

    But I think that if I tweet something like “@joeuser Hi Joe!”, and you follow me, but not Joe, you will not see the tweet.

    I do agree with the necessity of TweetDeck. That’s the only way that anyone can follow more than a handful of people and be able to keep up – without being able to group the people I follow, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of who was who. I have groups for social people I know IRL, for technologists I track, for people who I don’t know “really” but I consider hilarious, etc.

    • April 20, 2009 11:14 pm

      Hm. I am pretty sure (unless I am doing this whole thing wrong!) that if you update your status, even if you are beginning it with @fabulousperson, that everyone who follows you sees every thing you say to that wonderful fool.

      • April 20, 2009 11:18 pm

        Ah! The whole “you only see @ replies if you’re following that person” thing only works on the Twitter website. TweetDeck doesn’t respect that, for example, and will show you everything from that person. I somehow feel like the apps I use on my BlackBerry do that filtering though. I knew there was a reason I thought that!

        • April 20, 2009 11:22 pm

          I don’t mean to be contrary, but I just checked the Twitter website and I see this: amber_benson @jaime_fox So jealous of you right now. It’s an oven in LA. Just ask @SammLevine

          I follow Amber (yay Tara!) but I have no idea who jaime_fox is.

          Either way, Twitter is confusing and I love Tweetdeck.

        • April 20, 2009 11:26 pm

          (I’m not really replying to myself, but to Erica, but the “reply” link isn’t there)

          It’s even more entirely possible that this is a “feature” of Twitter that doesn’t exist anymore. I know that it certainly USED to be that way. And, quite frankly, I appreciate finding out that it’s NOT like that, because I’ve happily been doing @replies assuming that the only people who would see them were folks who knew that person, etc, etc. Based upon this new information, DM may be more used by me now!

          To get back on topic – today I sent an @ message to a co-worker who sits one row away from me, asking if he wanted to go to lunch today. And then I got up and walked over there. Because he only checks his Twitter about twice a day. And also, I only tweeted that to him to be funny. But now I know everyone saw it.

        • April 21, 2009 6:36 am

          That’s my job. Introducing neuroses to the masses.

  6. April 21, 2009 1:13 pm

    To get back on topic – today I sent an @ message to a co-worker who sits one row away from me, asking if he wanted to go to lunch today. And then I got up and walked over there. Because he only checks his Twitter about twice a day. And also, I only tweeted that to him to be funny. But now I know everyone saw it.


    • April 21, 2009 1:15 pm

      Here’s another good one. I’m at the Microsoft Technology Center, sitting around a table with both Microsofties and co-workers…and I’ve already had at least two messages happen in Twitter with people I’m literally sitting next to, or across the table from.

      And it’s not like this is a presentation – it’s an informal discussion. And the tweets were about the very topic that we’re discussing.

    • Frank permalink
      April 21, 2009 6:27 pm

      At my last job I would only converse with my cubicle neighbor via our company’s IM program. We both thought it was pretty funny and we went on for about a month never actually speaking to one another. Then we started speaking and found we had a lot in common.

      Then at the company Christmas party he got drunk and told Erica I was watching Battlestar Galactica without her (something I promised her I wouldn’t do).

      The moral of this story is to never speak to your coworkers. You’ll only get in trouble.

  7. April 21, 2009 6:33 pm

    I think I mostly use twitter just to spot check the world. I’ll open it, scroll through a page or two of tweets, reply if I see something interesting and investigate if I see something REALLY interesting. I use it as kind of a casual thing. I don’t think it’s a very good medium for serious conversation, though.

  8. April 22, 2009 10:59 am

    Well, I follow almost 500 people, but mostly out of courtesy/niceness and because a lot are just organizations or news sites that share breaking news or ways to be involved. The activist and news junkie in me simply can’t resist more ways to get information and help spread the word.

    As far as actual conversations and engagement — I’d say there are about 50 people I have regular conversations with either through @replies or DMs. I check their statuses regularly by visiting their timeline if I haven’t been on twitter throughout the day.

    While I understand that sometimes it gets annoying to backtrack in order to follow conversations, I think there are benefits to seeing people’s @replies even if you don’t know them. For one, if two people seem to be having a really great conversation, but I only follow one of them, being able to see their convo is the only way I’ll find out about the other person and will immediately follow them. I can also participate in the conversation even if I don’t follow the other person.

    If it’s a personal conversation, you might not be able to relate, but perhaps I do, so I can join in or choose to take the conversation offline. I find that I learn a lot from following other people’s conversations on twitter through them sharing their personal experiences, or links, or advice about a particular problem.

    As far as the earlier discussion about @replies you see and don’t see, that’s a twitter setting. Under settings, go to notices. You can either choose to see all @replies, @replies only for people you follow, or no @replies, which seems to be the choice you might want.

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