Time to let off some steam on the subject of Twitter.
As a Twitter user, I regularly feel like a giraffe strapped inside a small Lada stuck in an information highway traffic jam. Let me explain why – I’ll start by pointing out why Twitter is worth using at all.
It’s a global stream of consciousness
Via http://search.twitter.com, you can peek into the thought-stream of millions of net users. What are they reading, thinking, feeling, doing? This real-time flow of information is unprecedented. Sometimes I search using some random term, just out of curiosity. How many people think about cheese right now?
Helps you find and follow people of particular interest
I have used Twitter to find people who are excited about the same technology I am – sometimes to find those who are actually making that technology and have interesting perspectives on it. Concrete examples: Nokia people who are early users of the upcoming N97.
Now to the bad things.
The world’s biggest, loudest echo chamber
If you go looking for original information on a popular topic, you will have to wade through many, many tweets which are just “retweets” of the same information, with no information or just useless information attached. This makes tracking topics through searches harder.
If you want information on a product, there will be Twitter accounts spamming ads about it. Annoying.
Only 140 characters
Face it – there are ideas you can express much better in 250 characters than in 140. The character limit is artificial and reduces the quality of the information, since it has to be split into smaller parts or abbreviated half-way to oblivion. A few times I have given up on a tweet, because I couldn’t reduce its size without compromising the message.
Twitter does not separate replies (threads) from messages
Admittedly, this is changing with some basic support for viewing conversations having been added. Still, when I reply to someone on Twitter, that counts as a full-blown tweet from me when in reality it is just a remark relevant only to the tweet I’m replying to.
It is used for everything – by everyone
Ads. News. Personal info. Professional info. All of that in a huge pile of tiny chunks of 140-char information. It is messy.
No system for accomodating both hyperactive and sedate users
Some of the people I am following regularly post 10-15 tweets every day. Others average 1-2 a week. Naturally the former completely drown out the latter.
Twitter is the only regularly unstable Web 2.0 service I use.
Conclusion: A massive, unique mess
Twitter is slow, unstable, encumbered by spam, full of redundant information and so simplistic it hurts usability.
For personal, semi-private use, Facebook‘s status updates are superior. Facebook is a more stable service, messages have no 140 char limit, and it supports comments to status updates – my news feed resembles a kind of web forum for my life. It works well, looks nice and is reasonably fast.
Aimed at enterprise users, Yammer is a much more feature-complete service. Proper threading and e-mail summaries are the features I use the most. It is also nice to have auto-following of conversations the people I follow take part in.
Twitter, however, is open and has a huge and rapidly growing userbase. I can’t think of anything matching http://search.twitter.com, simply because I know of no other open service with Twitter’s amount of users and activity. There is no faster way to hook into the global consciousness online, and that means I continue to come back to Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts there, even though I very much prefer the user interfaces and feature sets of Facebook and Yammer.
For the foreseeable future I’ll continue to use all three services – as long as one is wide open with a huge user base, one is private and social-network oriented and one is tailored for the enterprise they will fill different needs.
I just hope the Twitter guys are busy learning from their competitors – given the momentum they have now I think it will be difficult for a rival to emerge soon, and the Twitter user experience has vast potential for improvement.