The 12 Major Problems with Twitter and The Stephen Fry Backlash

Posted on February 12th 2009

In the good ol' days of blogging (circa 2003) before the marketers made them as boring as everything else they touch, you might have said that blogging was often about reflection and writing and even “thinking out loud”, I know I did. No one quite knew what blogs were for but lots of people, especially those that'd mastered RSS were having fun finding out.

One of the best bits of blogging was, and still is, receiving comments. Not only do you get to share your ideas in public but people join is as well. It often takes quite a while to get your first comment and by now many a seasoned blogger really only expects about a 1% comment-per-blog rate, but it's still a pleasure when people do… you feel that maybe someone is out there listening.

In the same way that Bay City Rollers gave way to sheer brilliance of New Kids on the Block, this month's social media Robbie Williams-ish fad is Twitter.And like all the other bandwagon jumpers, I think it's great. except for a few things that may be actually bad for your (or my) mental health.

1. YOU FEEL YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE

You don't. Just because you tweet your innermost gems or what you had for breakfast it doesn't mean that anyone actually read it, they may have been having breakfast themselves or cared.

Yes, you may have a thousand followers but the chances that anyone read what you tweeted is slim and because twitter can be such a distraction once you follow more than 100 people - how many people are turning off twitter whilst they get some work done?

Nobody is listening, even fewer people care.

2. YOU FEEL YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO DO

I like waking up and seeing what the people who have awoken slightly earlier than me have been up to. On days when I don't have emails to plough through it even feels like “having something to do”…. just checking in!  Anything that presents itself as a list often is masquerading as being “something that needs to be done” but it doesn't need to be “done” at all.

Catching up on twitter is a substitute for not having enough interesting friends who email us, they are broadcasting trivia and you (and me) are lappin it up.

3. YOU FEEL YOU ARE CONNECTED

You are not. I too was amazed when, after following (THE) Stephen Fry, he followed me back. I felt honoured as I then watched my fellow tweeters attempt to engage him in fawning conversations about where to get a good espresso in Tanzania. Think about it, if you are following five thousand people, if each person only twittered you once a day that would be… a pain.

It feels like a two-way connection but it's not.

4. YOU ARE META THINKING ABOUT META THINKING

There is the whole problem of thinking about what you are thinking about or not living a life but queuing up things you can twitter about later. This I worry about because it, from the outside at least, can look at best like depressive thinking or in some cases you can see someone disappearing up their own arse in fewer than 140 characters. I'm not sure how best to put this but to me, twitter feels inherently unhealthy.

5. ERIC THE HALF A CONVERSATION

I unfollow anyone who has 3 @follows in a row simply because it clearly shows that the person is so un-empathic that they can't imagine that I don't have the other person's part of  the conversation (and really don't care) like when you listen to someone having a loud telephone conversation of the train, it's not the loudness that's the problem it's the “having only half the conversation” that's simply rude.

Blimey.. get a chatroom!

6. THE PEOPLE WHO ARE TWITTERING

Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross and the gothic sex mad one that looks like Kenny Everett… Despite lots of celebrities hitting twitter, it is a great list of the really needy ones, poor old Stephen stalling bouts of depression with gadgets and cleverness, Jonthanan with his yo-yo-ing look-at-me weight problems and the gothic one with the hair. I love Stephen, Wossy and Thingy but as people we tend to forget how fucked up they are, which might just be why they've taken to twitter with such enthusiasm. Next week it'll be chilli-and-chocolate collonic irigation or some such.

p.s Of course I'm not fucked up, I'm simply using twitter as part of the research in my job. Ahem.

7. PEOPLE HAVE STARTED USING IT REALLY BADLY

You know the types, woeful self-promoters trying to rack up a few thousand followers so they can sell you something. Marketers like these kind of broke blogging. All technologies seem to have a trajectory that starts goes “1. cutting edge”, “2. hard to explain but valuable and promising”, “3. Popular and attracting marketers”, “4. Old hat and disappointing that it didn't live up to expectation”, “5. Useless and on telly”.

8. TWITTER HAS A FATAL FLAW

The fact that one's followers are explicit is bonkers. One of my clients had a crazy idea - to simply follow all his competitors followers. He made a heap of additional sales that day. Is being able to see, and contact, someone's followers a fatal flaw in Twitter? I don't know but it is definitely exploitable.

9. THE CONTENT ITSELF

Whilst what I had for breakfast (porridge with blueberries and honey) doesn't make a blog post, it warrants a tweet or maybe two if you inlcude washing up. And to be frank, like other people's dreams, it's as boring as hell… even with blueberries in it.

10. THE DEATH OF OPPORTUNITY

Stephen Fry doesn't give good tweet. What he had for breakfast is about as interesting as what I had. It just happens that “Stephen Fry” just “is” Stephen Fry. And I don't like this. The hey-day of blogging held up the promise that, maybe, anyone could make it and become A-list. If your blog posts were “good enough” you would be the one interviewed on telly about what you had for breakfast. All the followers that Stephen Fry has are because he's a celebrity. It seems like a tiresome retreat to the old guard somehow and in my tweetstream at least there seems to be a goldrush-like race to unfollow Stephen Fry (and tweet about why you are doing it to boot).

11. THE TOOLS OFTEN DON'T WORK

Not only does twitter break quite a lot (although it has been remarkably stable lately), the tools built on top of twitter break even more and the tools that you use to interact with twitter (Twitterific, TweetDeck, Thwirl) are also a pile of poo that regularly breaks. I'm amazed at how strong the need to “have an audience” and “feeling like you have something to do” is that people are happy to put up with something so flaky. The strength of those needs worries me.

Having said all that, I'm far from being a twitter humbugger, I love the mobile integration (on the iphone) the almost right now immediacy, the austere simplicity of 140 characters, tweetpics and being able to GEO locate your tweets to say “I am here”. I worry about twitter.com's seeming lack of concern about lack of income because I'm really going to miss twitter once they've burned their way through the latest raft of funding.

So, there you have it, eleven reasons twitter might be bad for you. For the twelfth, follow me on Twitter… only kidding…

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Comments

Thanks for illuminating the Dark Side of Twitter (Twitferatu?). Some of its pitfalls sound like the pitfalls of the unexamined life. Perhaps that's a clue to its appeal to a population whose sense of well-being depends on avoiding such an examination.

I appreciate your reference to one of my favorite Python characters.


Everything has a dark side and watching the process of the dark catch up with the bright hype, particularly with technology fascinates me.

 I remember when TXT-ing was hailed by edu-geeks (like me)  as a wonderful way to remind kids about homework deadlines, or as a tool for providing learning prompts and encouragement and what it ended being REALLY good for was for the next level of asynchronous bullying.

And whilst I write this, all the gullible idiots out there (like me) are clicking the "Don't Click" tweetbomb... hilarious...

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed reading your top 12 Tom, but I must say some things have changed on twitter for the better since this article was written. I agree with you the tools often did not work back in 2009, but they have really straightened that out in my opinion over the last 6 months or so to the point everything works perfectly now from what I have seen.


Best regards,
Sheldon, free coloring pages

I've been on Twitter for over a year now (an eternity in the world of demanding social media users) and its the exact same. While Yammer and other services beef-up their know-how and functionality, Twitter sits there and does small (or nothing). Not only is the interface excessively simplistic despite its use and demand, there's been no upgrades (no discussion threads, no Re-Tweet button, no bookmarking). Nowhere are the know-how limitations more noticeable than the issues with security. Hackers have taken notice of Twitter's soft approach to know-how and are hammering it with viruses and worms. See frases para orkut