Why Twitter?

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What’s the point of Twitter?

That’s a question I asked my own Twitter followers yesterday, prompted by ambivalence and confusion after reading two recent Pew Institute studies relating to what was once called a “micro-blogging” service. Don’t get me wrong; I know why I am addicted, but I doubted that many other people saw Twitter as the necessary delivery system to force people to watch videos of old Monkees songs or whatever Britpop reference happened to be floating in my head at that particular moment.

So I asked everyone else, and got what was a surprisingly coherent response.

Before I get to the response, though, the first of the studies that made me wonder about Twitter in the first place: According to Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the media is doing Twitter wrong. The problem, the study argues, is that most media outlets look at Twitter as an alternative to an RSS feed, and just push links to stories and other information that’s available elsewhere, instead of trying to engage with other Twitter users (93% of all tweets from the thirteen media outlets studied during the course of a week for the survey were links, according to the results), which seems to be missing the point and potential of Twitter altogether. While individual journalists may use the service to solicit information or retweet comments from others, institutional Twitter accounts exist, it seems, merely to be a voice of authority. And that, I’d argue, isn’t what Twitter is about.

(MORE: Are Companies Being Anti-Social with Twitter and Facebook?)

This is where my own, entirely unscientific, research comes in. When I asked my own followers why they were on Twitter, it wasn’t long before patterns in interest became apparent. Twitter appealed because it was informal, because it was concise, and because it was conversational. One person called it “the world’s best self-selecting cocktail party [with] fast breaking news, good conversation, low commitment,” with another replying that “it’s either the watercooler or the watering hole, depending on which metaphor you wanna run with.”

“Twitter is far less time-consuming [than other social media],” said a friend, “plus the 140-character limit forces people to be more concise and clever.”

“Twitter is, for me, a conversational medium where I select those I converse with while ignoring barriers of class, age and locale,” wrote another.

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