Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


June 30, 2008

Twitter Jitters

Is Twitter a useful microblogging tool or an over-hyped outlet for narcissists? Alpha geek Rands tells Gelf what's what.

Melissa S

Gelf was somewhat skeptical about the rise of Twitter and microblogging. We wondered, as Andy Rooney might, why anyone would possibly be interested in broadcasting every mundane activity of their life—and why anyone else would read it. But because we're not like Andy Rooney, and are supposed to be on the cutting edge of these things, we thought we'd find out what all the fuss is about. We sent out Twitter expert Melissa Sconyers to interview the blogger, author, and Twitter proponent Rands—aka Michael Lopp—and see what we're missing out on. The interview was conducted via Twitter, and so all questions and answers clock in at an ADD-accommodating 140 characters or less. Would they win us over to the cause of microblogging? Read on and find out.

Rands drawing courtesy of Kevin Cornell of
"Tweets like 'Booze at the W at 6pm!' are extremely effective."

Rands drawing courtesy of Kevin Cornell of

Melissa S: Introducing Rands, author of the blog Randsinrepose. Welcome, Rands.

Rands: @everyone Howdy.

MS: This interview is in the Twitter format, meaning both questions and answers will be written in 140 characters or less.

R: Which forces us to be brief and to the point. Wicked.

MS: How long have you been on Twitter? What made you sign up originally?

R: I signed up in Fall 2006. My policy is to sign up for just about anything on the web. Nerd curiosity.

MS: How often do you Twitter?

R: I sprinkle a little Twitter over my entire day.

MS: Why do you normally Twitter?

R: The original thought was to give whatever I was doing at the time chapter title. It's turned more conversational.

MS: Twitter seems to have spawned its own lexicon. Besides calling a message a "tweet," what are some of the key terms to know?

R: It's less lexicon and more conventions. The @reply convention, when you direct a message at a person, has immense value.

MS: Will @names on Twitter eventually become as highly sought after as .com domain names?

R: It's ironic that @names are simply reversed email addresses that drop the domain name. The concept of @names is much bigger than Twitter.

MS: There are lots of Twitter naysayers out there, who write it off as an over-hyped, useless tool for narcissists.

R: There will always be naysayers and they should go be naysayers. Twitter is what you make of it.

MS: How do you make your friends and family understand why you use Twitter?

R: I've given up trying to explain Twitter to people. The point is for you to sign-up and figure it out for yourself.

MS: Why is it valuable to you?

R: Right now, it's a social search engine. I ask a question and receive 10 to 20 high-quality responses. I always learn something.

MS: You've mentioned following both friends and strangers. What are your criteria when deciding to follow somebody you don't know?

R: If I personally know the person, I'll follow them. For strangers, I'll take a five-second glance at their last 10 tweets to make a decision.

MS: If people want you to follow them, how can they grab your attention?

R: Taking time to @reply me is a great way to get on my radar. It's my single biggest source of new folks to follow.

MS: You've written in the past about Twitter Equilibrium. How would you explain that in 140 characters or less?

R: Only follow the people who are adding to your day. Remove the ones who aren't. Even if they're friends.

MS: In other social networks, that could be a huge faux pas. Why can you do it in Twitter?

R: If you stopped following a good friend for Twitterspew, they'd ask you why and you'd explain, "You're spewing."

MS: So, how many people do you follow? And how many people currently follow you?

R: I'm following around 170 folks and there are nearly 3,000 people following me.

MS: How do you keep up with your Twitterstream?

R: I glance at Twitterific whenever I sit down at my desktop.

MS: How much time do you have to put in to get all of this value out of it?

R: I think you need a healthy balance of generating thoughtful tweets while also only following those who don't annoy you.

MS: When people first sign up for Twitter, who are the people they should find to follow, and why?

R: Ideally, you want to have some set of pre-existing Twitters to surround yourself with. Co-workers maybe?

MS: What has been the most unexpected or delightful incident that has resulted from using Twitter?

R: I made a hire via Twitter. That's value. I'm also fond of creating back-channel social events at conferences.

MS: How so?

R: During conferences, I do a lot of ad-hoc social organizing. Tweets like "Booze at the W at 6pm!" are extremely effective.

MS: Tell me your thoughts about the kid who Twittered out of Egyptian jail, or how it was used to report the recent earthquake in China.

R: Twitter is chock-full of information junkies. That's why we're on there. I am not surprised it moves faster than any news source.

MS: Has Twitter ever been a nuisance? When (if ever) do you turn it off?

R: If Twitter is annoying you then you don't understand Twitter.

MS: Twitter is experiencing some growing pains, and lately, seems to have a high percentage of downtime. Does this affect you?

R: Not really. I don't have a business-critical dependence on Twitter. However, I do usually notice when it's down.

MS: Some companies are using Twitter as a tool. What are some of the reasons and possible advantages for companies to start Twittering?

R: I follow @zappos because I'm fascinated by their corporate culture. The CEO updates regularly and it's not all like "BUY SHOES HERE DAMMIT."

MS: What are some of the strategies you would suggest for companies who want to have a presence on Twitter?

R: Take time to sound like a human. Can't stress that enough. It's not about making money; it's about having a conversation.

MS: What are some reasons companies or people should not get on Twitter?

R: Advertising strikes me as a great way to be ignored.

MS: How are politicians using Twitter?

R: Go check out @barackobama. Do you really think that's him Twittering? Of course not. Fail. Still voting for him.

MS: People have started to give Twitter "context" and "memory." Tell me about these applications and why they are meaningful.

R: Twitter is open to third-party developers, so there are a slew of great applications. I use Tweetscan for search and Quotably for replies.

MS: How do you see Twitter evolving?

R: Twitter eventually needs to make some bling. The question is how are they going to combine their simplicity mantra with advertising.

MS: What challenges does Twitter have in that process?

R: First, they've got to stay up. All the time.

MS: Will everybody be on Twitter eventually?

R: No.

So what's our verdict? We'll try anything once. Follow us at where we'll be experimenting. If you like us and we like it, we'll keep on, um, tweeting. Otherwise, we'll file it with our LiveJournal in our internet attic. Stay tuned.

Melissa S

Melissa S is an ubergeek who is obsessed with technology, search engines, start-ups, and China.

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- Internet
- posted on Jun 30, 08
Bill Cammack

Good interview. :)

That's an interesting idea to unfollow people that don't contribute to your day on a regular basis. The only problem with that is that you miss out on those RARE occasions where somebody that normally talks about NOTHING happens to have that one tidbit of information that makes YOUR day by enabling you to be relevant & current about a topic of interest that that particular person this one time happened to have advanced knowledge about.

- Internet
- posted on Jun 30, 08

Nice interview Mel!

- Internet
- posted on Jun 30, 08
Michael Arrington

...And what of this ? Twitter Conversations Come To A Screaming Halt; Users Simply Move To Friendfeed:

"A key feature of Twitter has been down most of this week: Replies. The core Twitter service itself is alive, but the team took the Reply feature down on Tuesday when the service started to slow. As of now, Friday afternoon, Replies are still down....

Why aren’t people screaming about the feature being gone? Because this time, they’re just heading over to Friendfeed to have those very same conversations. Friendfeed for most users was just a place to bookmarks all their activities on other social networks. Now, more and more, it’s a place that people start conversations. The early adopters got that a while ago. Now, the not so early adopters are using it as a Twitter replacement, too."

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Article by Melissa S

Melissa S is an ubergeek who is obsessed with technology, search engines, start-ups, and China.

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