FriendFeed Waxes as Twitter Wanes For Me

I’ve hit the point where I’m really just totally sick and tired of Twitter. Long ago, I thought it was too frivolous to care about and last fall I gave in and joined. Over time I changed my mind and decided that I generally liked the concept behind it while still not being happy with large parts of its implementation. That it has three entirely different interfaces for interacting whether you are talking to everyone, one person publicly or one person privately is ridiculous. The threading model is non-existent and having functionality like track that existed via IM but not elsewhere was just nonsense.

Similarly I’ve been fighting FriendFeed as well. It seemed too busy and overwhelming for me to want to be a part of it. I hate the “new SNS busy work” effect where you have to duplicate all the crap you’ve done on every other SNS. I had a few burbles with it but it seemed OK. When I hooked it up to Twhirl it really came alive though. I like the way conversations stay together and don’t spread out into an illegible mess like on Twitter. I’m less enamored with the FriendFeed default of showing me stuff by “friends of friends.” If I cared about those people, they’d be my friends. That was the very first thing I hid. I also like being able to hide categories globally, categories by person, etc.

So my Twitter account while it still exists is deprecated. I expect that whether or not I eventually leave, I’ll be moving slowly over to my FriendFeed account for this sort of interaction. I also have a Pownce account as well, although at the moment it really is only a backup of my Twitter. It has only ever received duplicates of my Twitter posts and probably that won’t change anytime soon.

Overall, I’m happy with FriendFeed after a few hours, in a way that took me months to get with Twitter. At this point I think absolutely the only thing Twitter has to offer is the user base. At its best, most of its model and interface sucks and lately you take the sucky baseline and add on much downtime. I honestly don’t care if it disappears, now that we all have a better alternative.

Twitter Zeitgeist

My Twitter fast continues. I’ve looked at it for less than 15 minutes each for the last two days. As I tweeted yesterday:

I thought that I would miss Twitter like an addict craving a fix. Instead it felt more like having a hypnotist cure a nervous tic overnight.

Garrick van Buren forwarded me a link to this guy’s Twitter skepticism. What’s interesting that his issues and mine seem to be equal and opposite. He thinks people use @replies when they should use more direct messages. I prefer to have everything public unless there is a compelling reason to take it private. He doesn’t like the abandonment of the “What are you doing” conceit, and I think that is the most boring frigging thing ever. If he got his way, I’d abandon Twitter in a heartbeat. The service he describes holds even less value than Twitter currently holds for me.

I’ve grown weary of the way Twitter leaves a kind of jangly feeling, like having three cups of coffee too many. There is always something coming in and more behind that. I see lots of people saying things like “I’m turning off Twitter for a while, I need to get things done.” Twitter is cute but it’s hard to get things done and pay attention to it. If you don’t pay attention to it constantly, you lose a lot of the power of it. It’s a conundrum and one I am having a hard time finding a reasonable balance with.

And just because I don’t feel like writing a full post to encapsulate this link, I will admit that my Twitter contrarianism could be just as misguided as this Robin Hobb rant about blogging, in which she does her level best to sound like Harlan Ellison on the subject. I’m a little chagrined how much her piece has in common with mine, in that she thinks blogging kills writing and (at least for me) twittering seems to kill my blogging. The only part that resonates with me is the idea that one activity can subtract the urgency and energy to do the other. I’ve decided that I like the value blogging creates for me, which is different than the value of twittering. Each to his or her own.

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.

In My Second Month on Twitter, I Reject Your Commandments

I resisted the Twitter fad for a very long time. My sense was that it was just another time waster, high signal to noise and full of generally irrelevant stuff. I signed up about six weeks ago and found that while all of the above was indeed true I enjoyed it anyway. I’ve been a fairly regular twitterer ever since.

Yesterday Steve Garfield tweeted this link about whether Twitter users are “twits” or “twerps”, complete with analysis of what makes one versus the other and some mild chiding at which way is the More Correct Way to Twitter. It also led me to this other page of Twitter Ten Commandments where the mild chiding is replaced by full on pompous posturing. I suspect the latter link is deliberately provocative as a link whoring mechanism and I have just fallen for it. So be it.

I flatly reject the notion that there is a right and a wrong way to use Twitter, and that you must conform to these weirdly narrow set of rules in order to use it correctly. “Thou shalt not tweet more than 20 times a day.” “Thou shalt not tweet more than 10 times in an hour.” Really? We are expected to keep a clock on ourselves now? Wow, that really adds a level of enjoyment to it. “Hey I have something to say, how many tweets do I have left in my quota? Darn, I have to wait 20 minutes before I can tweet again.” Give me a break.

Even if I haven’t been lost already, he would have lost me here:

6: Thou shalt not forget that the question being asked is “What are you doing?”.

Part of why I resisted joining up for so long is that I seldom do anything very interesting, and I didn’t see what value constantly answering that question could have. When I did join, the very first thing I did was abandon that framing premise as too boring to consider. Instead, for me it is more like “What are you thinking?” which has a much wider range of possibility. My favorite stint on Twitter so far was in the runup to the holidays when I was posting tiny musings on love and hate and affection, getting really interesting responses in return. If my favorite interaction would have been precluded by those commandments, not much chance of me buying in to them.

In the final analysis, not only are they silly and kind of dickish but ultimately they are completely irrelevant. It is a completely self-correcting system. If someone is following you via their cellphone and you get too prolific for them, they unfollow you. If you stop being interesting to someone, they unfollow you. We don’t need all these rules because the system takes care of itself. Maybe for your standard neurotic SNS type user whose main interaction with a system is to collect a headcount via “friends” or “followers” that is anathema to them. Unfollowing makes my count go down, woe is me! Personally, just as I don’t care how many listeners my podcast has, I don’t (or try not to) care how many followers I have. I firmly expect that they will come and go, that I’ll do things to piss some off or lose them, that I’ll pick up other ones. That’s just how the game plays out.

If I were required to follow Phil’s Ten Commandments, I’d just quit the service. If most people I follow did, they would become less interesting. We have a freeform platform for human interaction here. Presupposing exactly what interactions should flow through it and how is not necessary. It causes more harm by making people self-censor their potentially interesting thoughts and is just dumb. Break the commandments! Be Twitter heathens! Phil Casablanca will get pissed off and not follow any of us but we can live with that. It’s like the elephant tied up with a string – it’s not the string that keeps him from running off but his belief in the boundary. Ignoring the boundaries makes you more interesting to me so let it rip!