Newspapers all a-twitter; me, not so much

Via Smart Mobs, via Random Mumblings, comes this piece from The Digital Edge: “Twittering the News

It’s an interesting concept – Newspapers using Twitter as a way of reaching new media savvy consumers. Because of the 140 character limit, the stories are effectively limited to headlines and short blurbs anyway, so it isn’t that great a leap from the publishing of headline-only RSS feeds, in the sense that the audience would still need to come back to the newspaper site to get the full story.

There are some significant limitations, though, as Lawton notes in the piece:

Twitter is still primarily a new toy for the tech-savvy, so the number of people using the service is still small compared to other social networking services. “I have a suspicion that if it breaks out beyond the web-savvy crowd that’s given it a lot of recent buzz, it’ll be because people find really useful applications,” Friesen said.

Twitter continues to seem to me like a solution in search of a problem – how is this different than subscribing to receive push alerts from a newspaper site by email, except that this time it’s SMS? (Of course, a number of different services, including CNN, have offered SMS alerts of breaking news for some time).

But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it – Twitter’s not just a mechanism for enabling subscribers to receive SMS messages (or IMs) – it’s also a social network, in the sense that you can see the favorites, friends, and followers of the people who are your favorites, friend, and followers – or of anyone else whose profile you come across.

(What’s the difference between a Friend and a Follower? A Friend is someone I am following – a follower is someone who has me in their list of friends. A favorite is a tweet – a twitter message- you received which you indicated you liked – your favorites get archived separately from the ongoing stream.)

There isn’t, however, any direct provision for commenting on or reacting to the tweets or twitter messages you receive from someone you’re following. You can respond by twittering yourself, but nothing directly connects your response to the original message.

Twitter also enables a certain flexibility, separating the question of whose stream you are following from the question of how you are currently receiving alerts. That is, you can move your receiving of notifications from Web to SMS to IM and back, without unsubscribing and resubscribing from a bunch of different services.

I suspect a relatively simple script could switch notifications to IM when I login to the appropriate IM service, and switch notifications back to SMS when I log off – making unnecessary any specific involvement on the user’s behalf. The goal should be get notifications I want delivered to me, regardless of device or channel.

I confess though that except for certain specific situations – attending a large conference with a group of colleagues who may want to attend a number of different sessions be still meet up from time to time (SXSW, anyone?) – I still prefer pull to push. I want alerts about breaking news events – but only when I ask for them.

Heck, I don’t generally even answer my phone – and for the same reason.

Can someone twitter me what it is that I’m missing?

[Update: Robin Good tries to explain why people love/hate Twitter: Twitter, a Beginner’s Guide]


  1. Interesting that newspapers would have picked up on Twitter. I signed up for twitter as a way to keep up on what was happening at SxSW because I wasn’t there this year. You really need to add some friends to Twitter to get anything out of it…personally I was surprised at how it has taken off, for what seems like a fairly useless service but I find myself hitting the site once in a while just to see what people are up to.

  2. True enough, Jeff – so what’s your Twitter username?

    I can see the benefit at certain times and places – but I guess I’d rather blog.

    Twitter doesn’t seem to me to create a conversation – it just results in a series of monologues, like a bunch of people in the room all talking at once but not really listening to each other.

    I get enough of that as a consultant. ;)

Comments are closed.