Twitter: I still don’t get it

Posted in The Internet by Dan on December 4th, 2008

I’m certainly not the first person to ask this question, but what exactly is the point of Twitter (I mean aside from being the poster child for scalability problems)?

Most Twitter feeds consist of messages like “Cheese sandwich for lunch”, “Just watched the latest episode of [some TV show]” and “Put more RAM in my PC, much faster now”.  Who on earth wants to read this stuff?  Yet people on Twitter are each following hundreds of other people, getting bite-sized updates about the most mundane details of the lives of huge numbers of strangers.

Perhaps, like reading blogs, the secret is to filter out the rubbish?  There are an awful lot of blogs and, it has to be said, a lot of awful blogs, but eventually you find the ones you like.  Maybe I just need to find the right people to follow on Twitter?  Fortunately, Jurgen Appelo has produced another one of his lists.  This time it’s the Top 50 Twitterers to Follow for Developers.  There are several instantly recognisable names on the list; many people whose blogs I read.  So I took a look at most of their Twitter feeds and no, these people can’t make it interesting either.  There are confusing fragments of conversations with other people that you don’t know, half-formed thoughts, obfuscated hyperlinks and yet more mundane life details that nobody needs to know.

Can it really be that the emperor is naked?  Has the medium become more important than the message?  I’d really like to know what the appeal of it is.  Is it the constant reassurance that there are hundreds of people out there who have lives as equally dull as your own?

Online it’s everywhere.  Even the BBC has started using it.  BBC News’ coverage of the recent events in Mumbai included contributions sourced from Twitter (with no indication of the validity of these contributors or guarantees as to the veracity of their information).

Then again, is Twitter really that popular?  Nobody that I know in the real world uses Twitter.  They all use Facebook, some have blogs but not one person uses Twitter, not even the software developers.  Where does the buzz come from?  Why are there dozens of imitations trying to repeat Twitter’s “success”?

So this is an invitation.  Please tell me (in the comments below) why I should care about Twitter.  What am I missing?  I’m even prepared to give it a trial, if somebody can convince me that it is worthwhile.  I’ve no problems sharing the trivial events of my daily existence (I’m thinking of maybe having soup for lunch today).  It’s the other bit that confuses me.  How can I extract value from other people’s Twittering?