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Sunday
Nov142010

What is Twitter? Do you have an answer?

Even though Twitter adds millions of new users each month, it still feels like Twitter can’t tell users what Twitter is - in fifty words or less! 
 
The best way to discover what’s new in your world…

The what, why and how of Twitter is as confusing as it has ever been.  Since the music industry is one of the first industries to heavily embrace Twitter, I asked some industry friends the simple question: “What is Twitter?”  Their answers and my answer are below.  Please contribute to the conversation by answering “What is Twitter?” as a comment. 
 
 
Derek Sivers (@sivers)

Twitter is an open platform for short messages.  That’s all.  It can be used for anything.  Some people think, “Twitter means I have to talk about what I had for breakfast,” but think about this:  What if when the telephone was invented, it was first used by teenagers to gossip?  Then people would have prejudiced against the phone, thinking it was just a tool for gossip, not realizing it could be used for absolutely anything.  Same with Twitter.  A biologist sets up a sensor in a plant so it tweets when it needs water.  A seismologist has it send earthquake alerts.  And so on…  Twitter can be used for anything. 
 
 
Andrew Dubber (@dubber)

First and foremost, Twitter is not a broadcast medium. It is, at its simplest, human beings talking to each other. One way to approach it is as if you’re in a bar. If you start shouting ‘check me out’, ‘buy my record’ or ‘let me show you my video’, you’re going to be rightly avoided. But if you have genuine conversations about interesting things, and listen more than you talk - people are going to find you interesting.
 
But Twitter is different than pub chats as well. In a way, it’s more like thinking aloud. The people following you will see what you say - and what you say might spark thoughts, conversations and ideas. It is, as one friend describes it, a serendipity accelerator. If people know what you’re up to, or what you have on your mind, they’re far more likely to be friendly and helpful in ways you might not have anticipated.
 
 
Steve Lawson (@solobasssteve)

Twitter has become a myriad things - a brain dump, a status update, a way of meeting people, a comedy medium, a place to post gig news, to offer concerts, to chat to your audience, to listen, to find news, to discuss news…
 
Twitter is a conduit between you, the people you follow and the people who follow you.
It’s an appalling broadcast medium, should you attempt to use it as such, and being a one-to-one subscription medium rather than a channel-based set-up, behavioural trends on twitter outwith the people you are communicating with are largely irrelevant, as they - in a visceral, experiential sense - don’t exist. You’ve never seen them, they’ve never seen you, and unless something of significance happens via an intermediary, the individuals involved in those trends won’t connect with you.
 
Twitter works best when it’s the voice of one person read by another.  Any sense of authenticity, personality and relevance is quickly lost when that gets filtered through a third-party tweeting, or auto-tweets from another platform, or when that voice is subservient to a corporate identity.
 
The strength of impression that’s made through personal replies means that it favours small and medium sized bands over those artists whose subscribers on the platform are too numerous to be able to talk with effectively.
 
My own experiences on there have ranged from booking an entire tour, to meeting my favourite musicians and getting on guest-lists and arranging collaborations, right through to sending Direct Messages to politicians in the House of Commons with information pertinent to the debate while I watched it live on TV…
 
Its democratic nature makes it a great way to disrupt hierarchies, and get past the barriers that people in positions of fame or authority build around themselves, and its informal nature makes it ideal for natural communication in otherwise unnatural environments - the music business being one of the most gloriously unnatural states of being known to humankind…
 
 
Ariel Hyatt (@cyberpr)

I think of Twitter as a giant status update in the sky and in my opinion, Twitter is the easiest and most fun social network of them all.
 
When Twitter first launched they proposed that you simply answer the question: What Are You Doing?  But we know it’s evolved into something much more complex.  As I travel the globe and meet more and more musicians it’s no longer unusual to have a Twitter account and to Tweet.  What is unusual is: Finding an artist who understands how to use Twitter well!
 
That means mixing up your content with great links to share, photos, videos, RTs, @’s and don’t over hype and pimp too much (it makes you boring).
 
 
Bruce Warila (@brucewarila)

It took me two years to decide that I really like Twitter.  After using TweetDeck for almost a year, I am now using Bit.ly (for posting) and Twitter.com (for reading) on a daily basis.
 
Because it’s easy to process a lot of headlines (short takes) quickly using Twitter, my impression is that more and more people are using Twitter to keep up with the “headlines”.  For those that prefer to use Twitter instead of RSS or email, to follow my thoughts, rants and declarations, I have set up my blog to auto-post (to broadcast) my headlines through Twitter.  Moreover, I am also using Twitter (through Bit.ly) to post (abbreviated) items I don’t have time to blog about.
 
I have also come to believe that Twitter is a fantastic time saver, as in Twitter can save you the time it takes to repeat yourself (over and over).  Most non-private, one-on-one conversations are more valuable when the dialog can be monitored by anyone that cares to listen.  This falls under the category of: “When something is worth discussing, discuss it where everyone can (optionally) hear you.” 
 
I am also hoping for a “Tweet this e-mail Reply” button, like the “Reply” or the “Reply All” buttons on every email; now that would be a no-repeat time saver.
 
I am still a habitual RSS user, so I have not caught on to using Twiiter to follow lots of people or to consume the daily “headlines”.  Although, I am using Twitter as Dubber stated above, as a “serendipity accelerator”.  However I am starting to wonder if the next time Andrew and I speak, will we have lots to talk about…or nothing?
 

What is Twitter?

Reader Comments (13)

Twitter is a self-constructed filter.

Down & dirty communication tool. As large or small as you decide to make it. Somewhat cliquish. But you can choose what clique you want to hang out with, and if you are interesting you are easily let in. I suspect in the physical world you would not be so successful at joining these clubs! Fun, yet a massive time-waster as its very addictive by nature. Lots of pompous blow-hards who have a pulpit from which to make their proclamations, and yet lots of very dear sweet lovely folks. All in all: #win

November 15 | Unregistered Commenteralbert

Twitter is.... up to you.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterVosto

As a musician who dove in just a year ago into learning how to become a working musician, Twitter is my #1 resource for educating myself on trends, tools, ideas, and anything in the music industry. Like Bruce Warila, I use it more than my Google reader, especially for music blogs because I can filter things more quickly in Twitter than in my RSS feed. What is nice is that you can follow an expert or top musician and they don't have to follow you back.

The problem I find with Twitter (for me) is that most of my fans are not on Twitter. Which is why I am glad I can tweet something and have it go on Facebook to my fans (with Selective Tweets).

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Franke

Nice to read about twitter definition from different experts. For me twitter is a great marketing tool.

November 16 | Unregistered Commenterjoel

I love Andrew Dubber's comment:

"if you have genuine conversations about interesting things, and listen more than you talk - people are going to find you interesting."

This is a good maxim for life, not just Twitter!

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Cleaver

Twitter is a place to push my content i create.

It's a place i can push content others create.

Its a place to sum up what I or the websites I run are about.

Its an individuals tool to do as they wish (as you have said) and its the place the individuals can become micro groups and bigger groups for a small amount of time or forever.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

Twitter is like texting everyone with a phone at one time, with one text.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterRanger

it's a CB Radio for the self-centered

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

I think twitter is just a way to connect, share, and communicate with people. It is a tool like anything else and can be used for a myriad of things. I find it simple....twitter is what it is. This would have been a cool topic or #TT (trending topic) to discuss on twitter. FOLLOW ME @lmqbyrd...I follow back LOL

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterLouis Byrd

I agree with Jamie and also really like Jamie's comment. Twitter isn't about selling yourself or just broadcasting whatever you want to say and hoping someone will listen. Most online marketing isn't. It's about providing value and creating a connection.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

@Brian I think Twitter is still in a growth phase and will become increasingly popular with "normal" fans. Up to recently it did seem like the people who are using it the most were those involved in the world of media, marketing, journalism etc. but the growth of the Smart phone market (the biggest reason people use it is because it is easily accessible on their phones) will impact on both adoption and usage (i.e. more people will set up accounts and of those 70% of people who set up an account and haven't used it, more of those will go back to the service and become active users).
I totally agree with Arial Hyatt's comments that it is difficult to find artists who are using Twitter well. Once artists I think is doing this is pop singer @KylieMinogue - she really gets the balance right between communicating with her followers, giving them insight into her life but also the commercial necessity of selling her music and merchandise.
I read an interesting article about why the traditional media should be adopting Twitter more and have applied this to the music industry which you can read here if you're interested.
Eilish

November 24 | Unregistered CommenterEilish

Twitter is for those who know how to use it well, a good way of communicating quickly to lots of people without swamping them with information.

For most, I suspect it's their way of getting their 15 minutes of fame. I'm not interested in what anyone has for breakfast and those types will soon find themselves unfollowed unless they provide something interesting in between meals.

On a side note. I really don't see the point in following hundreds of people, no one has enough time to read all that stuff.

And if you're not going to read what someone tweets about, what the hell is the point.

Cheers
Darren

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