Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Downside of Twitter

I've written about my experiences with Twitter before. But I am considering whether I need to stop using it. The problem is too much Twitter -- I'm becoming depressed.

I only follow a small number of people (17 at this point) and most of them are interested in knowledge management. So there is a high signal-to-noise ratio -- most of the tweets are interesting and/or intriguing. But I am finding my mind is turning off. There are so many opinions about communities of practice, so many top ten lists, articles about what you need to know, etc. Either all the world's knowledge problems have been solved and I just need to read about it (if I had the time) or there are so many "answers" I am loathe to add to the pile.

I hate to say this because most of the people I follow (and those they retweet) are friends of mine -- or where I don't know them personally, they are people I like to think of as friends. They aren't pretentious know-it-all types. And individually their tweets don't give that impression either. But taken together, they are simply overwhelming.

Now, it seems I have three options:

  1. I can stop using Twitter. I would feel no guilt about this and it would stop the influx, but it would also negate all the benefits of the service as well.
  2. I can rethink my choice of who to follow. Perhaps I shouldn't be following knowledge management devotees. Perhaps, rather than feeding (and overloading) my primary interests, I should follow alternate topics where I would be less concerned about missing things and happy to learn whatever comes my way.
  3. I could follow more people. Although this sounds illogical, it is possible I am following too few people too closely. If I increase the volume (and the variety) my Twitter stream would become more of a river that I occasionally step into, rather than a stream I attempt to follow diligently.

However, the real problem may be that I have nothing to say right now. This is not uncommon. I go through spurts of writing emails, blog entries, phone calls when I get excited about things. But then will often fall silent for weeks at a time as I get down to the hard work of getting things done. The problem is that the Twitter stream doesn't stop when I shift modality to get-things-done mode, at which point the stream -- no matter how interesting -- becomes an annoyance.

To test this theory (and as part of my ongoing education in what makes Twitter users tick) I did some analysis of the tweets of those I follow. My feeling was that I was receiving an unduly large number of references to outside content -- links to blogs, websites etc -- that significantly increased the "weight" of the stream because many of the 140 character messages actually pointed to 2-3 pages of serious content. Far more than I could possibly keep track of.

And sure enough, there were a significant number of outbound links (43%). However, not as many as I suspected. 55% of the tweets were still what could be called "new content" in the stream (no linking or retweeting). However, when compared to the stream of another user who uses Twitter primarily for personal exchanges, the difference is visible.

So, what to do? For now I think I have to accept that I am a "binge" user of Twitter. This may not be a terribly good social behavior for a system that is "always on" (unlike other technologies that are "as needed" point-to-point, such as email or traditional collaboration tools like bulletin boards). But I may not be so unique among the many different usage patterns that is developing around Twitter.

1 comment:

Stan Garfield said...


I had similar concerns about not being able to keep up with all of the tweets of the people I follow. Here is my approach.

Using Twitter Search RSS feeds, I have defined searches for the following terms:
* My Twitter ID
* #KM
* "knowledge management"
* "communities of practice"

Using the approach described in
Following people in Twitter through RSS I also have an RSS feed for my friends timeline. This does not actually capture all tweets, but instead is a limited sample of them. In this way, I am able to get a sense of what is going on without trying to read all tweets.

So far, this seems to work. I am able to monitor all tweets on topics of specific interest to me or which mention me, and sample other tweets of the people I follow.

I use Feed My Inbox for reading my RSS feeds through email.