For Huffington Post readers who don’t know what’s the point of Twitter

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OK, so first of all, I did not mean to publicly correct this Huffington Post writer on my blog. I was just reading Peter Schwartz new blogpost called Microblogging with Shitter – I mean Twitter. I felt that he totally didn’t get the true value of Twitter, so I decided to make a long comment on his post. When I was posting, it told me I could only comment for 250 words. That’s why I was forced to make it a blogpost instead.

This post is directly in response to Peter Schwartz (like @ Messaging in a non-microblogging way)

OK. Let me address your post as best as I can to someone who has only seen the exterior of Twitter and not the true usage and value of it. Your bashing is vulgar, unfair, and mostly illogical, and I would like to point out why.

1) Twitter Journalism is possible

I know you feel that Twitter Journalism is ridiculous, but I think it’s because you are simply talking about using one tweet to describe everything. There are people who Tweet about their new experiences from moment to moment. People write stories through an aggregate of Tweets (and others DO read it). There’s also been surgeons who Tweet about their surgery operations while doing it. Now I won’t argue about the moral implications of that, but it at least proves that Twitter has at least some Journalism applications.

2) Just because something else can do it too doesn’t mean it’s not useful

I think your logic is not correct when you said Texting and Cellphone Cameras can also report headline news on the spot. First of all, saying “something else can do this too” by no means discredits the quality of the service in mind. When cellphone cameras came out, would you also say, “Normal cameras can do this too, so it’s a piece of crap” if you were not randomly biased against cellphone cameras? Probably not. Also, I can tell you that Twitter reports these news much better and faster than the 2 alternatives you mentioned. If you see a shocking event, you might text it to your 10 friends. These 10 friends will respond “No way! Are you ok?” And then maybe tell their 2 friends that are sitting next to them. End of story.

On Twitter, since you are micro-“blogging” about the event, everyone learns about the event on Twitter a few minutes after it happens. 20 minutes after the Denver Airport incident, after it already became common knowledge on Twitter, someone on Twitter asked, “Why is the news not covering this!? This is big!” That’s just because he got spoiled by Twitter and forgot that reporters actually need to travel there, learn about what is going on, and finally report the story. Now you can try to beat news reporters in broadcasting shocking news to the world by texting and taking pictures on your camera, but I suspect it would be an uphill battle.

Also, don’t forget that people USE their cellphone cameras to take pictures of the events and then send it to friends through Twitter. They are not mutually exclusive because Twitter is only the distribution channel. I guess you were referring to EMAILING your friends with the picture and hope that all of them would check their emails in the next 30 seconds and forward it to your other friends. Hmmm, I see your….no I don’t see it.

3) Twitter is for pointing people to the right places and giving quick tips, not for elaborated information like this post

You stated that Twitter, by definition, is “incapable of communicating more than fragments of narrative” and “can never supply coherence or meaning.” I think that is also because you don’t understand the nature of Twitter. Yes, you don’t want to teach people how to become an entrepreneur through tweets (some do, actually). You write a BLOGPOST about entrepreneurship and you share it with friends through Twitter. You read something interesting, and you share it with your followers on Twitter. Twitter is not meant to tell you everything. Twitter is meant to give you quick tips of what you want, including links, pictures and ideas. You are having your own delusion about Twitter and saying that it actually can’t do it. That’s like saying an iPod cannot turn on the television and is therefore useless.

4) Twitter is focused on Value than Revenue right now

Regarding Twitter’s business model, which is unsurprisingly what everyone is bashing at, there is no doubt in my mind that Twitter can make money when it wants to. Twitter can easily function by charging premium membership fees, deploy some promotional items, or contract with companies who want to use it for various purposes. Twitter is different from all the other “fun sites that make no money and die” because people don’t go on Twitter for fun. People integrate it into their lives in a very hardcore manner. Just for an example, there are over 1000 Twitter Apps that are built by developers and companies just to make Twitter better. Some like Tweetdeck even received funding. You don’t see any other website that people are so hardcore about they create a tool just to make it better instead of investing into making another big startup. Politicians and companies also have used it successfully to promote their brands and campaigns, and as long as that value proposition is there, it will not go away. Sure, it still may fail eventually, but definitely not as easy and matter-of-fact as you say it is.

5) No one on Twitter expects a single Tweet to tell the whole story

You claimed that Twitter is socially destructive because it gives people the illusion that small bursts of information helps people understand the entire picture of a topic. First of all, this kinda of repeats your early points and I have already addressed how Twitter is mostly a pointer to where valuable information is (especially if you know how to use useful tools like Twitter Search to screen through useless noise). Second, I would say that no one EXPECTS Twitter to convey the entire story (hence the links to a blogpost), therefore I don’t believe an illusion is created. If I tweeted, “Feeling very tired. Worked on RewardMe till 3 in the morning,” I don’t think anyone would expect to know the entire story regarding what is RewardMe, what was I working on, or did I take so long because I was distracted by something else. All they would know is that I am tired because I was working on RewardMe and it is late. If I wanted people to know more, I would make another Tweet. Again, no one would expect that new tweet is the entire story either.

6) Bubble Bursts happen in valuation, not in traffic

Regarding your comment about Twitter becoming a bubble and is peaked, I just want to say that being a bubble is just entirely dependent on whether something is overrated or not. In your mind it is, but for people who use Twitter as part of their lives, it’s not….yet (depending on what the valuation will go up to). However, just saying something is a bubble that has peaked simply because lots of people are loving it right now is not a fair statement. You can burst because everyone gives you too high of an evaluation, but you do not burst because everyone loves it and is going onto it. Maybe next month will show a decline in traffic just because some hype is gone, but I can guarantee that it will still be more than last month and Twitter will grow steadily.

7) Twitter’s value is not in its intellectual property but in its community and culture

While you are being sarcastic about the wisdom and prudence of VCs, I just want to say that you know there has been AMPLE sites that are trying to copy Twitter right? Most of them failed and some are achieving small success. On the other hand, you might want to check how many startups with nice patents that cost over $20,000 that failed eventually. Actually, let me know how many Internet Startups succeeded or failed because of the lack of patents or the possession of a patent that no one could get around with.

8 ) Twitter is a platform

Setting the record straighter, Twitter is an application as well as a platform. If you go on Twitter.com and use it, you might say it is an application. But when you factor in all the other apps (stands for Application) out there that build on Twitter’s platform, it’s…well, a platform.

9) Twitter is not a fad with mundane day-to-day information

Regarding people boring themselves to death due to all the “desiderata of one’s day”, I’m actually quite disappointed with you saying that. You are a blogger, and you know very well that you can blog about your daily boring things like “I went to work today and ate lunch” or you can blog about something that is of value to your readers. Twitter is microblogging, and so just like a blog, if you only tweet what you did in the day, only a handful of your best friends would read it. But if you Tweet to create value for your followers, then you will establish a large following. Once again, would you argue that “blogging is a fad that will die because no one cares what you did that day” five years ago?

10) Not being Number One does not mean it fails

I’ll give you that Twitter may or may not not achieve Windows or iPhone status, but I could easily replace tons of successful products into that sentence and have it still make sense. Saying that Gary Vaynerchuck will never be as rich as Bill Gates and therefore will fail makes absolutely no sense.

11) Everything is spam if it is where you don’t want it to be

I’ll also agree that if we get all the Twitter messages in our inbox, we would treat it like spam. Again, I would also argue that if Huffington Post, Tech Crunch and Mashable sends me an email whenever there’s a new post, I would treat it like spam too. That’s why I go to my RSS reader to see these new posts and I go to Twitter (or Tweetdeck/Seesmic Desktop) to see my tweet updates.

Final Thoughts

Finishing up, your argument is mostly based on how there are other tools that can do similar functions (why exclude the best?) and that people get confused about the difference between important and trivial things. I think they’re both based on a very superficial knowledge of how to use Twitter. I was actually hoping to be more convinced through your logic while I was studying your post in order to make a response. Sadly, I became deeply disappointed with the weak arguments and the bashing for bashing sake. Also, I noticed I started off more polite, but after reading your post line by line it is hard not to write in a similar tone. Next time you find something to bash as a topic that could go viral, at least attach better logic to more research.

With that said, I would be happy if any of my thoughts or info are not accurate and that you kindly correctly them through logical instead of opinionated statements. Thanks for the post and take care.

@yukaichou.com (macro-blog) or @yukaichou (micro-blog)

12 thoughts on “For Huffington Post readers who don’t know what’s the point of Twitter”

  1. What’s trivial to one person can be important to someone else and vice versa. Twitter is a brilliant feed forward platform.

  2. Hello Steve,

    Thanks for the comment! Yes, Twitter is becoming more and more mainstream. I’m not sure it will always preserve that high quality though. Facebook was probably the best product during 2006-2007. Now it’s contaminated because it wants to satisfy everyone.

  3. HI Yu-kai, Excellent post. As I was leaving the dentist this afternoon I asked the girls in the office if they heard of twitter. Some said they looked at their friends twitter pages but didn’t really know much about it.
    I shared this link http://twitter.com/public_timeline. The girls started to read the best tweets out loud to each other and forgot I was even there. My one question survey had a positive response. Twitter has a very healthy pulse in my opinion. I look forward to reading your blog posts and your tweets. Thanks, Steve D

  4. Great post Yu-kai! I agree with all you points. It is frustrating trying to explain twitter to those who don’t get it…

    1. Haha, thanks a lot!

      It was a lot harder one year ago. Now people take it more like a “I know it’s big and popular, but I don’t understand it. Can you teach me?” kind of thing. 🙂

  5. Excellent post! You have gone great lengths to share what Twitter is to those who may not know about Twitter. You have taken steps to clarify why most people use it and you are so right on. Twitter is micro blogging and without it I am sure that I would not have met so many great people, I would not have had as many visitors to my site, I would not have been able to share what I have to offer to the world! Twitter is HUGE and while it is here those that are using it will continue to embrace it and grow right along with it. I tip my hat to you! Cheerz 2 You! 😀

    1. Thanks Jean! You are amazing. Twitter definitely has some huge value proposition instead of just an interesting fad. Hope all is well to you!

  6. Thats wonderful analysis!.. for me smses and emails for reporting some events seems ridiculous when I have something like twitter where I can reach large number of people quicker and in cheaper way.

    1. Thanks Mr Unknown that has a link to 404phylenotfound.blogspot.com 🙂

      I appreciate your kind comments. I think it is fine that the author didn’t dig into Twitter to really know of how valuable it is, but I feel his tone (including the title) was quite over considering how much he looked into it.

      Hope you do great and take care!

  7. Great post Yu-Kai!

    I believe that you are right in that Twitter is both an application and a platform. I use Twitter so much that I rarely am on the actual site but rather on an application for Twitter.

    What I don’t understand is Schwartz’s argument: “Can Twitter serve as an early source of information about important events such as the downing of the US Airways jet in the Hudson River or the terror attack in Mumbai? Sure. But so can cellphone cameras and text messages.” Sure Twitter isn’t the LA Times or CNN, but mind you the LA Times and CNN both HAVE Twitter accounts. Your cellphone has a limit on the people you can reach. Twitter is to a point is limitless. Don’t forget why the newspaper industry is struggling to stay alive: The Internet’s ability to provide information FAST and FREE. Twitter = Instant and Free.

    Is 140 characters enough? In a fast paced life, people want to know the ‘summary’ of news. So Yes, 140 is enough.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks Joe for the support.

      You have great insight there by mentioning it is more powerful than the usual FAST and FREE.

      140 characters may or may not be enough, but it makes tweeting kind of fun. That’s the productive mini-game we play 🙂

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