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!
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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?