Rethinking Twitter

I was a long time Twitter skeptic and late last fall I joined up and started using it. It seems like many people have such a conversion and then after they begin using the service they go from Saul of Blogging to the apostle Paul of Twitter immediately. My experience is unique in that while I did use it, I never really lost the skepticism. Now, four months on I feel less enamored of the service than I ever have.

I’ll be the first to admit that my blogging has suffered over the same time frame. Whether Twitter is the cause or just correlated I cannot say. It’s hard to discount the time it takes and the engagement and mental energy to keep up with the constant flow of tweets. I had been running in the mode where I’d get IM notification to my GTalk account. This meant a fairly steady stream of micro-interruption most times. If there were interesting points, I could respond almost instantly with my own pithy bit of 140 character wisdom.

Here’s an anology to think about. Is Twitter to blogging what the periodic cannon firings are to avalanches? By keeping me posting small thoughts all day long, I have less urgency to capture those thoughts in longer, more fleshed out blog posts. It eats away at my time, the continual partial attention it requires saps cycles from my brain’s CPU and in the end what do I have?

I’ve been blogging for five and a half years now, and podcasting for three and a half. Over that time period, I feel like I have written and recorded work of which I’m proud. This work is out there and it is mine and all of it is part of my “personal brand.” What I’m struggling with is the lasting value of the energy I’ve dumped into Twitter. Sure, some of my tweets were pretty funny and a few were profound. I couldn’t tell you which, or when or anything about them. As soon as they leave my keyboard they are gone. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just be making really short blog posts with the same thing in them.

I originally dissed the central Twitter conceit of continually answering the question “what are you doing?” That is such a generally boring question for me to be unworthy of actually bothering to reply. Now, however, I’m realizing that perhaps that was where the value always lay for me. Twitter matters to me when I can actually get things done with it, like making lunch plans or drumming up support for Create South. It does help keep me in touch with people, but so do many tools. It’s good for some things, so perhaps the problem is just in me trying to over-broaden it into something it shouldn’t be. Maybe it is of best value in quickly broadcasting ephemeral bits of data and then letting them effectively disappear back into the cyber-froth.

Meanwhile, I’m going to work on shifting my personal media equilibrium. I’ve spent too long gardening the ephemeral and harvesting nothing. I’m not dropping Twitter but I am putting it in a more appropriate place in my media toolkit. Your mileage may vary.

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