Out of touch

Tech columnist David Pogue usually has some interesting (if Mac-biased) things to say, and I enjoy his weekly column via e-mail every Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Today, though, I have to wonder if he’s completely lost touch with the tech world. He’s talking about Twitter, and he’s talking about it like it’s brand new.

Big-name tech pundits amass tens of thousands of followers. Normal people may have five or six.

5 or 6?!? That’s insane. I hardly think I’m that far above “normal”, and I have at last count between 100 and 150. Hell, you get more than 5 or 6 just from spambots. I’ve blocked more than triple that number. There’s at least 6 followers who I have absolutely no idea who they are or why they follow me. And I’m pretty far from being a celebrity. I think.

So I’ve been Twittering for a couple of months, and I’ve learned a lot. I’m still dubious about Twitter’s prospects for becoming a tool for ordinary people (rather than early-adopter techie types).

I dare say that most of the people I follow on Twitter are not “early-adopter techie types”. Twitter was full of them a year ago. Now it’s full of normal people doing normal things. Most of the tech nuts I follow have moved (as I have) to Identi.ca. In fact, that’s pretty much how I view those two near-identical services. Identi.ca is where the techies hang, and Twitter is for everybody else. Twitter is mainstream. Twitter is for presidential candidates and actors and bored housewives. It’s for pagans and polys and online businesses.

Suppose someone named Casey responds to one of your tweets. You can reply to Casey in one of two ways. First, you can send a Direct Message, which only Casey sees. Second, you can respond with another public tweet–but as you can imagine, everyone but Casey will be completely baffled. It’s obvious from the number of completely incomprehensible tweets (“No, only in Lichtenstein!”) that not all Twitter fans have yet grasped the difference between these reply types.

I think Pogue hasn’t yet grasped the idea of Twitter. It’s about building an online community. Many of the people I follow are people I’ve seen my friends talk to. I see a half of a conversation, I check the other person’s page to see the full conversation if I’m interested, and maybe I think that person is worth following too. It very closely mimics the real world in that respect. We get exposed to our friends’ friends, and sometimes we become friends with them too.

On the other hand, if you reply with a private Direct Message, Casey can’t reply to IT–unless you’ve also subscribed to *Casey’s* Twitter feeds. Seems like a pretty dumb design decision.

Actually, it’s a great design decision, since every Direct Message also hits my cell phone and my e-mail. I don’t want people I’m not following to have that kind of power to contact me.

It seems clear that you, as a tweet-sender, are not actually expected to respond to every reply.

Duh.

some people […] use automated software robots to churn out tweets, largely to promote their own blogs, sites or other products. (That doesn’t seem quite right to me.)

Well of course we do. Twitter is “micro-blogging”. So it’s only natural that when you’ve got something expansive to say, you want to microblog the link to your blog posting. Looking at my blog stats, I see that a decent number of people are using my Twitter/Identica posts to link through to my blog posts. Since I clearly label these with “#blog” so people know what the link is to, I’d say it’s not an unwanted usage of the service.

In the end, my impression of Twitter was right and wrong. Twitter IS a massive time drain. […] But it’s also a brilliant channel for breaking news, asking questions, and attaining one step of separation from public figures you admire. No other communications channel can match its capacity for real-time, person-to-person broadcasting.

At least he got the summary right. 😉

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Comments

  • david pogue  On January 17, 2009 at 11:00 am

    First, your tone (“duh”) is precisely the sort of snottiness that I remarked on in my column. You are one of the “knowier-than-thous” that will actually IMPEDE Twitter’s acceptance, not foster it.

    Second, it appears that Twitter is different things to different people. Most people found my newbie thoughts to be right on. (For example: http://tinyurl.com/9xz5ua)

    There’s a big difference between “That hasn’t been my experience” and “He’s an idiot, I’m the only one who’s right.”

    –Pogue

  • wolfger  On January 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    David:
    Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment. I appreciate it.

    The phrase I duh-ed was truly duh-worthy. We can’t be expected to respond to every reply, or a single conversation would last until one or the other person involved in it is dead. People often say things (in the physical world as well as Twitter) which require no response. I’m sorry if my tone offended you.

    And yes, Twitter most definitely is different things to different people. I don’t recall ever saying “I’m the only one who’s right”.

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