I don't need it. But... I think I want it?
September 3, 2009 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I can't seem to get into the whole Twitter experience. While I think I like the concept, after trying it several times I always seem to lose interest soon afterward. Is it just not for me, or are there some cool uses for it that I'm not aware of? What could I do with Twitter to make it worthwhile? What do you do?

I don't have a blog or a website that needs followers, and most of the friends I enjoy interacting with are on Facebook. Still, there's something about Twitter that makes me want to put it to use. What are some unusual (or just generally useful) things I could do with it?
posted by Tequila Mockingbird to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't understand the appeal of Twitter for a while, but finally sort of got it, and sent the following email to a friend who asked the same question as you:

The best way to explain the distinction is this: twitter allows people to see all unprotected twitter feeds whereas Facebook only allows you to see status updates of friends or friends of friends who have allowed their status updates to be public. So, for example, if you are a company doing diligence about the public's attitude toward you, you would find Twitter useful.

A personal experience helps explain this. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Starbucks, ordered a drink, and they screwed it up. I returned, told them they made me the wrong drink and they then made me the correct drink, no questions asked. Somewhat surprised at how painless this was, I tweeted something to the effect of "Starbucks is great!" Sure enough, moments later I was informed via email that someone at Starbucks was now following my tweets. They apparently have an automated search that crawls for all tweets related to their company, positive or negative, and follow those tweetstreams. Never mind that I likely will never again post a tweet about Starbucks. This way, they can follow a gadfly who complains about their company as easily as they can a repeat customer (me) who had a positive thing to say about it.

Conversely, if you are that gadfly and want to build a reputation as one who tells it straight about whatever company or issue angers you, you can quickly gain a following on Twitter that you can't on Facebook.

One example of the latter is the tool Stocktwits, via which active traders in a particular stock or industry share tips, news, opinions on the stock or industry and establish themselves as an expert.
posted by dfriedman at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I use it to follow food trucks.
posted by spec80 at 8:47 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dooce's recent Maytag saga shows how -- at least in her case -- she was able to get a problem solved and a charitable act to occur via Twitter.
posted by macadamiaranch at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2009


Previously.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2009


If nobody I knew was on twitter, I wouldn't bother it. I only follow maybe three or four people I don't know "in real life;" for me, and most people I know, it's a way to chat with friends, share links, etc, like facebook but more direct and conversational. If you don't know others on twitter, then yes, it's going to be hard to get into it, and I'm not sure it'd be that useful to you.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:50 AM on September 3, 2009


I was the same way with Twitter.. it has a sort of "figuring out WTF I'd use this for" curve...

Here's the reason (in my opinion):

The media keeps calling it a social networking tool, and pitting it against Facebook as if they're somehow related and/or in competition. This is stupid, and shows complete ignorance to their respective use cases.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends. I do NOT use Twitter for that reason. My Twitter friends are NOT my Facebook friends, and often (usually) NOT my friends even in real life.

If I'd say Twitter is pitted up against any sort of competition in terms of websites or technology, I'd say it's RSS feeds -- here's why:

I use Twitter to follow things I'm interested in updates on. Things like @ChicagoBreakingNews, @NHLBlackhawks, @redeyechicago, @google, @hotdougs [info on tasty hot dog specials at Hot Doug's.. seriously!] etc.

Basically, Twitter has pretty much replaced my use of RSS feeds.

Yes, I also follow some friends and "tweet" back and forth with them - but it's usually about current events or something in our area of interest (e.g. news on the Chicago Blackhawks, or technology stuff we're interested in sharing links about, etc)...

Twitter for me is a place to gather and share information.

Facebook for me is a place to maintain contact with friends and "socially network."

Therefore, twitter seemed pointless to me until I started finding cool stuff to "follow"...
posted by twiggy at 8:53 AM on September 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


First thing: Twitter doesn't have to be for you. It doesn't have to be something you get, or use...

Secondly: Like dfriedman, and yourself, I didn't get Twitter at first. dfriedman explains well that, functionally, it's like public Facebook statuses and you don't really understand why that might be useful or interesting initially.

For me, it was moving to a new city that did it. I ran a real time search on the name of the new city and started following people who were from here themselves, or who tweeted regularly about it. Having honed my profile to sound both interesting, and explain I was from here too now, I soon got some followers myself, and then discovered that they met up once a a month in a local bar... So, quickly and painlessly, Twitter gave me some contacts and a social outlet in a totally new city - faster than I (would have, and had) managed elsewhere...

Similarly, I did a search for people in the same business as I am, a business which is particularly introverted, and found a number of people, who I also followed. Many of them returned the follow, and we can exchange tweets and build relationships - both business and personal.

If these statuses were protected, like they are on Facebook, this wouldn't have been possible...
posted by benzo8 at 8:54 AM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I only got a Twitter account so that I could link it to my Evernote account and take notes from my mobile phone (since I don't have a fancy web-enabled/PDA phone, and I'm prone to lose notebooks/scraps of paper). I follow a few people on Twitter now - unlike Facebook, I've been able to easily limit the list of people I follow to those whose status updates I actually want to read.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2009


I think of it as social syndication (on preview, see above, RSS feeds for people who normally wouldn't provide one) for peronalities, companies, or services that somehow matter to me. Friends provide personal updates of local importance, personalities like Stephen Fry or Matthew Baldwin post quips or links to interesting content while a company uses it as a marketing tool. Some use it in interesting ways (John Hodgeman live-tweeting scrabble) and some use it prosaic ways that become interesting (behold Heather Armstrong bringing Maytag to its knees).

It can be interesting, but I imagine if you left your followers unculled, your stream would devolve into a collection of marketing bots and pRon spammers. I rarely look at stream of unfiltered tweets. Perhaps I am missing something.
posted by Verdant at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2009


I follow only hilarious friends on twitter. Only the hilarious ones. I mostly use twitter to complain about things. If you feel like Facebook has you sufficiently covered in these regards, you could aways control your mac with twitter instead.
posted by clockwork at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2009


I have an aversion to personally using it, but it has been indispensable to me as a career networking tool. For my industry (education technology) the leading voices all twitter amongst themselves and twitter is my way to see that conversation, find out who and what's really important right now. None of my friends are on twitter, and I don't see myself using it that way anytime soon.
posted by mammary16 at 9:11 AM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't really get it, either, until the fires broke out here in CA and the local TV stations preferred to continue running their infomercials rather than let people know what was going on re: fire movement, evacuations and so on. Searching "station fire" on Twitter gave me access to a lot of feeds that were continuously updating; it's been really helpful.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I use Twitter to be a guilt-free celeb-stalker. Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, Adam Savage, Grant Imahara, Mathowie, Ellen DeGeneres. I like being able to hear about their normal (or not-so-normal) day-to-day stuff, like what classes Felicia Day likes playing in D&D 4e, etc. Plus, they often drop sneak-peeks at things that are relevant to my interests (behind-the-scenes photos from Mythbusters, for example).
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I use twitter to speak in one voice and one voice only -- the voice of a subliterate YouTube commenter. The asinine broadcasting of "HEY HERE'S WHAT I AM DOING RIGHT NOW" to anyone willing to listen struck as me so solipsistic as to be hilarious, so I just ran with it. At best, it's an interesting writing exercise. At worst, it's annoying as hell to anyone willing to read it. But I kind of dig being annoying, so that's great!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


1) Twitter is only good now that I've installed Twitterfox. I hardly ever go to the Twitter website itself.

2) Besides friends I like following companies I am interested in (sometimes they tweet promos).

3) I also follow the CDC and WHO for emergency type info.

4) I also follow fireland (thanks Mefi) and Karl Lagerfeld because they don't overtweet and they're amusing.
posted by like_neon at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would never trust it for any type of breaking news or even regular news. That's why we have TV news with real accredited reporters who have to be accurate- or it's their asses.
posted by Zambrano at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2009


I write a book review on it every single day.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


i get easily bored with it too, but i do occasionally check this one out. otherwise i find it boring and useless (to me). but i'm not trying to advertise anything and i like facebook.
posted by cachondeo45 at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


i got twitter immediately. It made sense the very day I used it.

Oh wait, I'm supposed to be pretending I only like it grudgingly? Sorry. Also, hipsters suck.

Anyway i use it for:
1) Seeing what my friends are up to. Some overlap with facebook, but not 100% by any means. I'm interested inw hat my friends are doing, or I wouldn't be friends with them.
2) meeting new people. I see who my friends "@" and check those people out.
3) Work stuff. I follow people in both my day job and night job fields, and keep up with what they're doing and possible job opportunities.
4) Celebrities. Some of them are as funny and interesting as they think they are (although not Rainn Wilson.)
5) Website updates. Most sites I like send tweets when they publish something new now.
6) "real life" events. As mentioned above, L.A. is currently being overrun by high-quality food trucks. They use twitter to let people know where they will be parked. And other businesses advertise specials or parties or whatever.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:42 AM on September 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


It can be interesting, but I imagine if you left your followers unculled, your stream would devolve into a collection of marketing bots and pRon spammers. I rarely look at stream of unfiltered tweets. Perhaps I am missing something.

yes, you are missing the most fundamental aspect of the service. People who follow you do not appear in your "stream" unless you follow them back. I tend to block spammers just out of spite- but there's no real need to. You can just let them follow you, not follow them back, and never think about them again.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2009


If I'd say Twitter is pitted up against any sort of competition in terms of websites or technology, I'd say it's RSS feeds

Seconded. I have often described twitter as "wide open RSS for everyone".
posted by rokusan at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2009


I would never trust it for any type of breaking news or even regular news.

I would never trust a single tweet, but twitter is good to see or gauge groundswells.

That's why we have TV news with real accredited reporters who have to be accurate- or it's their asses.

I can only assume that was sarcasm.
posted by rokusan at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2009


i only use it to push breaking news alerts from the bbc or NYT to my cell phone.. i have never written an actual "tweet" myself, nor do i have any friends who actively use twitter to write anything about themselves.. anyone i know who does use it uses it as I do -- as a passive way to receive certain information.
posted by modernnomad at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2009


For me & my extended circle of business-friends (primarily independent knit designers and other self-employed types), it's a sort of office water cooler for us and a quick way to get answers or feedback.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2009


I was never into twitter until I installed an add on in Firefox that notifies me when there is updates and got an iPhone and can check them when I'm on the go. When people you know or are interested are actively involved, it feels like keeping up with everyone (which was difficult for me in the past). I also have twitter update my facebook status so it's useful to me for staying in touch with two groups of people.

It makes the whole world smaller. You can actually contact people who previously seemed so distant (celebrities or average joes).
posted by Kimberly at 11:26 AM on September 3, 2009


This site is amazing during breaking news events. Create as many columns as you like - three seems the most manageable - type in some key words and watch the real time updates flow in.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:25 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I lost interest in twitter before I could even sign up.
Perhaps it is not for you. It definitely is not for me.

Isn't it okay to not like something these days?
Should I force myself to tweet as well?
Not gonna happen.
posted by Palerale at 12:25 PM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I complained about my Comcast service and their Twitter people saw it and went to special lengths to get my service fixed. YMMV
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:42 PM on September 3, 2009


Thank you for all the posts so far, guys!

Just want to note that I'm not looking to "force" myself into using it, I am curious about uses other than random status-updates that I encounter the most.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 1:05 PM on September 3, 2009


Right now I'm gearing up for the Toronto film festival next week, and I'm getting a lot of mileage out of Twitter by following the #TIFF09 hash tag. Putting my schedule together was definitely helped along by seeing what other people were excited about or had already seen and were reviewing. Seeing when other people's ticket orders got processed gave me a pretty good idea for when I'd get my order done, and how likely I was to get into the movies I want to see. People are posting about how the ticket pickup lines are, so I can get a pretty good sense for what a good day/time is going to be to go get my order. I've got a few extra tickets for a certain show and have gotten some leads on people to trade with by tweeting about it.

It's definitely been useful for this, even though 99% of the time it's 'just' for keeping up with what's going on with my friends.
posted by Stacey at 1:22 PM on September 3, 2009


What do you do?

Looks like most of my reasons are already covered, so I'll just run down the list of who normally appears in my feed and why I like hearing what they have to say:

1) People I actually know. Because I get to hear little tidbits about their day. It's something to chat about when we get drinks later.

2) Bloggers I read. Because I get updated when they have new posts up, and they use Twitter for smaller-scale news/info they don't necessarily want to write a blog post about.

3) Celebrities. Because it's fun and voyeuristic to know what they're doing on a semi-daily basis, and because they tweet about upcoming places they're going to be. Conventions, book signings, etc.

4) Bands. Well, band. Because they put free songs on their website, and I like to know when those songs are posted.

5) The New York Neo-Futurists. Mostly because they have a Twitterplay contest every Tuesday.

6) Local community organizations/businesses/persons. Because Twitter can be a great way to find out about last-minute happenings and events I might want to attend.

For me, it took a critical mass of interesting people to be on Twitter before I finally joined up.
posted by lholladay at 1:41 PM on September 3, 2009


http://www.twitter.com/polljack amused me. It alerts you to online polls run by the Daily Mail (UK right wing haterag). Recent examples include:
Should women be allowed to present Top Gear?
Should taxpayers fund a transgender police support group?
Should children as young as five be taught about domestic violence?

UK-centric and may not agree with your politics, but I thought it was innovative enough to mention.
posted by 999 at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2009


Just as a data point, I follow a few friends and celebrities, and almost never use Twitter except to stave off boredom. If I'm on a train or waiting in line for something, I use Twitterific on my iPhone. Twitter content is guaranteed to be short, and use of it low-bandwidth and quick to download as a result.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:54 PM on September 6, 2009


I try to find funny people to follow, whether they're friends, strangers, or celebrities. It's also a great way to vent about something that isn't (necessarily) linked to your name.

I've also had a few great experiences with customer service. Right now, Twitter is still small enough that it's much easier to get personal customer support than by phone or e-mail, if it's just one person managing a company's Twitter account full-time.
Sure enough, moments later I was informed via email that someone at Starbucks was now following my tweets. They apparently have an automated search that crawls for all tweets related to their company, positive or negative, and follow those tweetstreams. Never mind that I likely will never again post a tweet about Starbucks. This way, they can follow a gadfly who complains about their company as easily as they can a repeat customer (me) who had a positive thing to say about it.
They do this to allow you to send them direct messages. Twitter allows you to send direct messages only to your followers.
posted by Nameless at 4:26 PM on September 24, 2009


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