The wonderful Steve Lawson has a fantastic post on the subject of twitter today, getting stuck in to prevailing criticisms about twitter as an online activity. One of the observations Steve makes in his post is that when it comes to twitter usage, if you are concerned about the quality of information streams you are receiving via twitter, you should simpy “change your friends”. Because twitter isn’t about sustaining an existing network in the way of MySpace or Facebook, twitter enables following based entirely on your own choices. Further, if you wish to categorise your twitter feeds, you can set up filtering systems on applications like TweetDeck that will deliver only information that is relevant to you. As Steve says, “you control the data set”.
This point is crucial to generating professional and personal value from twitter. The manner in which you choose to use twitter can be entirely dependent on your interests in various contexts. If in the office, you are only interested in technology news, or news reports or finance, you can set up a feedreader to only deliver twitter posts that fulfill that ambition. Thus in tweetdeck, or even friendfeed or Google Reader, you could subscribe to the various twitter accounts that deliver such information services. But then, if you are out and about at meetings and you’re keen to find out whether your next bus or train is running on time, you could set up your mobile phone feedreaders to deliver only transport service disruption tweets and related information. Or, if you’re at home and you want to hear about what your friends are up to, you can set up a friends channel on tweetdeck so you can tune in to the activities of people you are interested in, and carry on conversations as you please.
It all comes back to the fact that you have the power to control the feeds that are of interest to you, not only generally but by area of interest and even by device (web, program/client or mobile device).
Part of the trouble with communicating this to twitter doubters is that when you access the website or subscribe to specific tweeple (twitter user accounts, and yes, it is a word, as far as I’m concerned), this customisability is not immediately obvious. While there have been attempts to explain how you can manage large numbers of twitter accounts, the advice has often been marginalised or ignored by social media advocates and commentators. In essence, because the information channels require some work to customise, users have not been prepared to engage in the customisation process.
Gradually, however, applications and business groups are beginning to offer twitter directories of people and accounts with relevant information sources for specific user groups. This is a form of twitter filtering that was obviously going to happen and still needs a great deal of work, but it’s a logical value-add for potential users who as yet, are still not comprehending the value to be gained from interacting with the twitter medium.
I think the lesson to be learned here is simple: some users and commentators cannot imagine the value to be derived from the data that twitter generates, because they see the content as an undifferentiated stream of messages without advertising space. Partly as a result of the characteristics of content channels – print media, film, radio and television, and even websites – they are interpreting twitter as a content platform, which ought to have ‘space’ for revenue generation.
Twitter isn’t a content platform. It’s not a messaging platform. It’s a data publishing standard which enables personalised content streams to be published and accessed. Or, to put it more simply, it’s microblogging. It’s much simpler than most people think it is. But because it’s simple, it requires a degree of filtering for it to serve the interests of users.
Most importantly, you do not even need to have a twitter account to get value from twitter.
All you need is a decent feedreader. And if you don’t have that, then your chances of staying ahead of your game are buckleys and none.