Why I Love Twitter

If you care what I think, you know that Twitter is just about the best way to learn what I’m paying attention to. I pass along tidbits of O’Reilly news, interesting reading from mailing lists and blogs I follow, and of course, tidbits from the twitterers I’m following. These are all the things I could never find time to put on my blog, but that I spray via email like a firehose at editors, conference planners, and researchers within O’Reilly. A lot of my job is, as we say, “redistributing the future” – following interesting people, and passing on what I learn to others. And twitter is an awesome tool for doing just that.

Like a lot of people, I tried out Twitter early on, but didn’t stick to it. Most of the early twitter conversation was personal, and I didn’t have time for it. I came back when I noticed that about 5000 people were following my non-existent updates, waiting for me to say something. With that many listeners, I thought I’d better oblige. (There are now close to 16,000.) I soon realized that Twitter has grown up to become a critical business tool, ideal for following the latest news, tracking the ideas and whereabouts of people who will shape the future of technology, and sharing my own thoughts and attention stream.

I thought I should outline here some of the specific things I find so compelling about Twitter, with suggestions about architectural features to be emulated by other internet services.

  1. Twitter is simple. Twitter does one small thing, and does it well. Folks like Robert Scoble sing the praises of Friendfeed, which you could think of as twitter++. After all, it’s got comments and aggregation of data from multiple services. But despite its powerful premise, Friendfeed hasn’t dented Twitter’s growth. Personally, I don’t have time to wade through the comments; for me, Twitter is about quick hits, not about extended discussion. And while I love the promise of service aggregation, I tend to think that trying to marry it to commenting obscures its potential. Less is more. New services like peoplebrowsr are reframing service aggregation in a richer way, as a way of learning more about the people you follow, browsing the social graph. (Peoplebrowsr is still in alpha, but I think it has real potential as a social graph explorer, rather than as yet another people feed-reader.)
  2. Twitter works like people do. If I’m interested in someone, I don’t have to ask their permission to follow them. I don’t have to ask if they will be my friend: that is something that evolves naturally over time. If you’re a public figure like I am, the metaphor of mutual “friending” is truly broken. I get tens of thousands of friend requests from people I don’t know. Accepting would make it impossible for me to use a social tool to keep in touch with my real friends. Friend groups don’t really help.

    Twitter’s brilliant social architecture means that anyone can follow me, and I can follow anyone else (unless they want to keep their updates private.) Gradually, through repeated contact, we become friends. @ replies that can only be seen by people followed by both parties to a conversation create a natural kind of social grouping, as well as social group extensibility, as I gradually get more and more visibility into new people that my friends already know. Meanwhile, truly private direct messages are also supported.

    I don’t know who first used the term “ambient intimacy” but it’s a great description of what begins to happen on Twitter. I know not just what people are thinking about or reading, but enough about what they are doing that our relationship deepens, just like real-world friendships. People who follow me on Twitter learn that I’m making jam or pies, or gardening or riding my bike or feeding the horses, things that I’d never (or rarely, since I’m doing it here) share on my blog. I know a lot more about many of my professional contacts that makes them more into friends. And in the case of my family, who keep their updates private and visible only to a limited group of real friends, we can keep in touch in small ways that mean a lot. I get special moments of my wife or daughters’ day that we might not have shared otherwise. It’s truly lovely.

  3. Twitter cooperates well with others. Rather than loading itself down with features, it lets others extend its reach. There are dozens of powerful third-party interface programs; there are hundreds of add-on sites and tools. Twitter even lets competitors (like FriendFeed or Facebook) slurp its content into their services. But instead of strengthening them, it seems to strengthen Twitter. It’s the new version of embrace and extend: inject and take over. (Scoble recently noticed that 60%+ of his friends’ updates on Facebook actually came from twitter. And as John Battelle noted in a recent tweet, “I noticed now that my FBook status is updated with Twitter, I get responses in Fbook, but would like to see them here.” It might seem like a strength for Facebook to allow Twitter to update its status feed, but not the other way around, but I think Facebook will one day realize that Twitter has taken them over….)
  4. Twitter transcends the web. Like all of the key internet services today, Twitter is equally at home on the mobile phone. Even on the PC, I find myself using a separate client (Twhirl is an Adobe Air program) that provides a rich, alternate interface.
  5. Twitter is user-extensible.The @syntax for referring to users, hashtags, and whatever you call the use of $ as a special symbol for reference to financial instruments, were all user-generated innovations that, because of Twitter’s simplicity, allowed for third party services to be layered not just on the API, but on the content.
  6. Twitter evolves quickly. Perhaps because its features are so minimal, new user behaviors seem to propagate across Twitter really quickly. It’s a bit like the reason that fruit flies are used for genetic research: the short lifespan compresses the time for mutations to take hold. Perhaps a better analogy would be the speed of cultural evolution among humans compared to biological evolution. The most fascinating evolution happening on Twitter isn’t an evolution of the software, but an evolution in user behavior and in the types of data that are being shared.

    I saw this myself with retweeting, a behavior I picked up not from Twitter itself but from twhirl, the Twitter client I use. Because Twhirl actually has a button for retweeting, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to do it. I became one of the most prolific retweeters, figuring that I have more followers than most of the people I know, and that it would be good form to pass on the best of what they post. But it’s fascinating to see the growth of retweeting by others, even those not using twhirl.

In many ways, Twitter is a re-incarnation of the old Unix philosophy of simple, cooperating tools. The essence of Twitter is its constraints, the things it doesn’t do, and the way that its core services aren’t bound to a particular interface.

It strikes me that many of the programs that become enduring platforms have these same characteristics. Few people use the old TCP/IP-based applications like telnet and ftp any more, but TCP/IP itself is ubiquitous. No one uses the mail program any more, but all of us still use email. No one uses Tim Berners-Lee’s original web server and browser any more. Both were superseded by independent programs that used his core innovations: http and html.

What’s different, of course, is that Twitter isn’t just a protocol. It’s also a database. And that’s the old secret of Web 2.0, Data is the Intel Inside. That means that they can let go of controlling the interface. The more other people build on Twitter, the better their position becomes.

There’s a real lesson to Facebook here about giving other services (like Twitter) access to their social graph. They have the best one going, but because they try to keep users coming back to their interface, and even the applications built on their service have to live in Facebook, they end up as a ghetto rather than a true internet service. It’s the data, not the interface! Let other people use your data, build on it, and it will still belong to you. Hold it too tight, and they will compete with it.

Lots more to say, but the beach is calling on this sunny Saturday.

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  • Nice post from one of the many small fry. :-) Have have fun in the surf! :-)

  • “ambient intimacy” was likely first used in the context of Twitter by Leisa Reichelt of Disambiguity in March 2007.


  • Very insightful post. I wouldn’t underestimate the switching costs involved for moving photos, etc from facebook, but its an interesting point to consider.

  • Nice post about Twitter – I always love reading how people identify its cool points and use it as a BUSINESS tool, like so many of us do.

    What I think is going to be the best thing coming out of Twitter is the way the semantic web will also shape it.

    The best example of using the $ symbol for financial transactions is http://www.StockTwits.com. Using “$” before the stock, like $AAPL for Apple, will show up on the StockTwits site. Even if you are not trading you can use the $, for instance “$$(space) The market is in a downswing…” will also show up on StockTwits. It now has a Firefox extension which is pretty freaking cool.

    You can also follow your own top traders and learn so much about the stock market from an actual financial community.

    Great article!

  • Twitter rules.

  • Great post Tim.
    The Twitter protocol is as important as the cell phone and the PC. The Romans and Greeks created democracy, we lost it with broadcast media and big institutions, microblogging is bringing it back – Collaboration will move us forward.
    PeopleBrowsr is the new town square.
    Thanks for the mention.

  • Great post, Tim. Like you I took an early look at Twitter and walked away and now I’m happy that I took a second look.

    The notion of ambient intimacy is absolutely something that appeals to me. I don’t tire of the, “Just got home and eating” tweets because they connect me to the larger mass of humanity out there.

    What interests me most about Twitter is that it feels like a new form of communication, not just a new technology. Part instant message, part email, part micro-blog it fills a void that email and IM cannot keeping me in touch with friends while also introducing me to new people and ideas.

    A great example of the new model that Twitter offers is your recent blog of a retweet of mine. I retweeted an article from a good friend of mine, @gregoryng. You saw that tweet and were intrigued enough to blog about it. This simply would not have happened pre-Twitter. Greg may well have IM’ed me or emailed me the link to the article but my relationship with you isn’t such that I would forward on every interesting link that was IM’ed or emailed to me.

    But because you follow me on Twitter you saw it and blogged about it.

    This seamless way of distributing information offers much hope for the cross-pollination of ideas outside our usual spheres of influence. And its fun.

  • Excellent insight into the Twitter phenomenon, though I’m having a bit of trouble managing the huge inbound information flow and would like to more simple filtering – or maybe have people have a way to rank their own tweets in terms of importance and/or content.

  • Ken

    I have a question. I have subscribed to Twitter and have an account but it seems to limit me to following people in my email contacts or asks me to invite other people I know to join.
    Did you invite all 16,000 of those people who follow you?
    I gathered from your article that anyone could follow you but I don’t see how.

  • Tim, I’ve always thought Twitter is teh Unified Comms system Telcos would have loved to invent.
    Friendfeed is just twitter for people who woffle imho;-)

    But, would you use Twitter to replace email? I wrote some notes on that given the current memes here:


  • I love how “filtered” information comes to me on Twitter. Getting to know those bringing the information is a nice bonus.

  • scott

    Do you think that the folks at Twitter should drop or change the tweet entry prompt “What are you doing?” since so many people are either overloading or ignoring the intent of this question? Does the fact that this prompt still exists suggest that the Twitter developers will not be focusing on enhancements to the service that provide more usable features for how you are using the service?

  • “…and whatever you call the use of $ as a special symbol for reference to financial instruments…”

    You call it StockTwits. Check it out if you haven’t already: http://stocktwits.com/

  • I recently taught Twitter to students in my undergraduate Marketing with Web 2.0 Course. They were all like, “why wouldn’t I just use Facebook?” At least I had a good example of (negative) network effects… all of the chatter they wanted to keep up with is, for now, happening on Facebook.

    Still, for myself, I love Twitter for all the reasons mentioned. Twitter is also great for true crowd-sourcing, as in the physical/virtual blend when you’ve got a group of tweeters in the same vicinity (like conferences and conventions).

    I’m also a big fan of Twitterfeed as my preferred way to have new blog posts announced.

  • Ed

    You could have said that in well under 140 characters. I have been for >2 years:

    “Twitter. It’s for everybody”

    {Great post though Tim :) }

  • I love Twitter too.

    I’m biased since I’m an investor but your post sums up my feelings exactly.

    I also love following your tweets too.

  • Like you, when I first joined twitter it was b/c of some of my geek friends pushing me, but once I joined I didn’t really see the value.

    Upon recently revisiting, thanks to people like yourself and Chris Brogan, I’ve realized the tremendous existing as well as potential value of this medium.

    The only two bits I would include to your helpful article is about retweeting. I’ve noticed that the retweet function says the @name after “Retweet..”, which means that it doesn’t show up in the @replies box of whoever it is that you are reteweeting. I tend to do my retweets in this format instead: “@name retweeted:…” so that the person I’m broadcasting can directly know someone found their post of value! This is especially important if you are retweeting someone who isn’t following you as they will have no way of knowing they are being retweeted otherwise (to my knowledge anyhow).

  • Very well said.

    I would also add that the simplicity and lack of forced structure makes it self organizing. The users define what that product actually does for them. Beautiful.

    I fully expect twitter like features to start seeping into may products.


  • thank you Tim for quoting Twhirl as your client of choice! We are working on a new version which we hope you will like.

  • We love twitter too Tim! We’re excited for the launch of twitAD in the coming week.

    We took a page from Google and created an ad network that will help enrich the twitter community, rather then hinder it.

    We look forward to the days ahead…

  • Thanks for the great context. I agree totally. I would only add that use of Twitter, like use of several other social media tools, can help in what Jeff Jonas calls “Context Accumulation.” Twitter helps me make substantially more sense of the data around me since it contributes the context of a wide swath of people.

    Thanks again, and I look forward to your next post.


  • Tom

    I prefer tweetlation.com

  • I appreciate the datapoints, and I can see the value for many people in twitter, but I can’t see myself signing on any time soon. For the most part, I resist anything that means conversations are constrained by brevity, and anything that privileges the minutiae over longer, more thoughtful discourse. I do see its utility, but it’s not something that seems like it would be pleasant or useful to me.

  • @maria – A quick comment on your suggested retweet syntax: if you put the @name first, you actually destroy the whole value of retweeting, since an @ message is seen only by people who follow both of you. By definition, therefore, they’ve already seen the tweet in question.

    Retweeting @name on the other hand will be seen by everyone who follows me, not just those who follow both of us.

    @Ken – to follow someone, you just find them on twitter, and then hit the “follow” button. No invitations needed (or for that matter, available.)

    @alan p – I don’t think twitter replaces email. Increasingly, though, it is replacing IM for me, since it’s a lot easier to discover someone’s handle on twitter, and address them. If they aren’t following me, I can’t d them, but I can still give a public shout out via @, and get in touch. Works great.

  • Spot on! Except for #2, because except for you and a few others, twitter does *not* work like people do. People don’t share every little bit, with everyone any anyone, they share different things with different people based on different social circles they’re in.

    twitter unfortunately doesn’t let you split up those who follow you into, public, family, friends, work, etc. Some of the knock-off’s are starting to deliver on this, and are looking very tempting despite the rest of the great and accurate points you’ve made.

    Also, in light of how Rael was so quick to just slam shut the door on the webapps he’s built (at Values of n) just because he got acquired by twitter, I’m looking into other tools that work in a similar fashion, that I can actually ensure will stick around beyond the fairly short lifespan some of these Web 2.0 companies seem to have. Whether that means I run some software myself on Google Apps or my own server, or actually pay, either is better than building up my use of an app to just have it nuked when the company is acquired.

  • Tim, would love to hear your thoughts on if / how Facebook Connect will change things. Your post got me thinking and writing about Twitter and Facebook for about an hour–thanks for the inspiration.

    A bit the essay I just wrote: Facebook is a social graph that is like your home—a place where you interact with friends and family. Twitter is a social graph more like a bar, where you can walk up to and chat with anyone. The things you say and do at home, in your comfort zone, are more personal and honest than at the bar….. Do a search for a digital camera you’re thinking of buying, or “mexican food, lower east side,” or health insurance. Take the top 200 results from either Google or Microsoft (top 10 differ, but top 200 are probably pretty close), resort these results based on shared data from your friends—use Tweets, Facebook status messages, photos, reviews, blog posts, etc. Regardless of where or how this data is published, if you have closer connections to your Facebook friends than with your Twitter friends, the data from them is more useful and easily understandable, helps you make better decisions in choosing a restaurant or deciding to buy a product.

    Facebook Connect is the first place we’ll see your Facebook social graph overlayed on top of external data, like search results or restaurant reviews ( I think CitySearch is one of the launch partners, in fact—this will be infinitely more valuable to me than Yelp because Yelp has 0 context to me and is as good as average ratings and the opinion of the masses)….

    Full essay: http://bit.ly/FacebookVsTwitter

    I guess my main disagreement is with (2) Twitter works like people do — I think Facebook works like people, too, just in a different way. These networks mirror different facets of spoken / physical communication.

  • Michael Fidler

    I’m glad that you mentioned peoplebrowser. There is a lot of useful feature’s in it. It reminds me of a semantic based addon for Firefox called Headup, with added communications tools, but set in a browser instead of a widget. I know your actively involved with Web 3.0 development, so If you haven’t already tied Headup, it’s worth a look(I have zero to do with the Co). I often use the “less is more”, also, when trying to explain the service to friends(a difficult task)I’ve followed you from the start because you are one of the luminaries of the web. I really appreciate you writing this piece. I’ve noticed that you tweet often,and retweet just as often(very cool)and always wondered what it was that you liked about twitter so much. Now I know. Do you see sales increases in the books you twitter about? Thanks

  • Hey Tim…

    Great post and I agree with much of it.

    A couple comments relating to your post and commentary afterwards:

    1. Tim, you write: “if you put the @name first, you actually destroy the whole value of retweeting, since an @ message is seen only by people who follow both of you. By definition, therefore, they’ve already seen the tweet in question. ”

    To the best of my knowledge, this is incorrect. Even tonight I see many of your replies to folks I don’t follow in your Tweets. Perhaps something was adjusted on the Twitter side, but I can see all your replies as well as the replies of all that I follow. I CAN’T see the replies to me from those I don’t follow, however. Nor could I see their retweets of my posts. Changing how you retweet wouldn’t fix this, but there is one solution I found….

    2. Hopefully people are aware that at search.twitter.com, you can create an customized RSS feed for your key phrases. For example, my Twitter ID is jonerp, so I have an RSS feed that tracks all usages of @jonerp as well as another one for jonerp.com, my web site. This way I don’t miss any replies or mentions of my work.

    I am pretty new to Twitter still but I have been very pleased by how I can post quick and important updates, particularly on the SAP market or SAP job trends that are my areas of specialization – like you, I would not have time to blog on these things but it’s great to be able to share them. And it’s neat to work in some other topics, such as enterpreneurial business tactics and even some personal things as you noted. Twitter is a neat way of virtually approximating an informal business gathering, where the lines between professional and personal are blurred just the right amount.

    Facebook, on the other hand, has a really neat interface but is, to me, way too personal a context to pull my business colleagues or treat as a business conversational platform. Facebook is almost like inviting people into my apartment – something I wouldn’t do with a business colleague I just met. So for me anyway, Twitter much better approximates the experience of that kind of informal business context where the best relationships in business are ultimately formed. I have met many colleagues in the SAP world through Twitter, and also in the other web 2.0 areas I have been moving into.

    Like you, I’m not sold on FriendFeed and other more conversational mediums. Most of the time, I’m too busy with my own projects to carry on sustained conversations. But I think some of this does come down to individual workstyles and business models. I will say I am shocked at how much I have learned from my time at Twitter. I feel better connected and better informed. You are one of my favorite Tweeters but there are many who have made my working world a richer place. It’s pretty incredible, though we certainly need to keep a nuanced eye on what is working for us and not just follow like a herd.

    Finally, I commented elsewhere on how Twitter has reduced my email burden, or more importantly, on the need to be available on email all the time. I tell my clients to find me on Twitter if they need me for something time sensitive, not email – works great!

    It’s good to bring these topics out for discussion, thanks for doing so.

    – Jon –

  • Tim-
    I agree with most of your thoughts on Twitter. I have started to “make myself at home” on the Twitterverse, and I’ve found myself checking it more than my Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
    However, I feel like the people who made Twitter could add a little more to it without taking away from the original integrity. For example, I agree with Joe Hunkins when he said he wanted it to be filtered more. Or how about something like a wall-to-wall function?
    I wrote a response to this post on my blog, if you or anyone else is interested.
    Thanks for the post,

  • gscottl

    I signed up for twitter a year ago and have never used it. Thanks to this conversation I am going to give it another look.

  • Well Tim it’s easy for you to say… you’re a celebrity..no one like me don’t have followers that are hounding for new feeds.

    But then this diatribe will bring me that celebrity status ;-)

  • Very useful post – thanks.

    I’ve had a Twitter account for a while (@vasudevram), but like you, I initially didn’t use it much. Over time I started following some Twitterers, some also follow me, but still didn’t use it a lot – though I did recently start tweeting my new blog posts.

    But you give good reasons for using Twitter better, so I’m going to use it more from now. I particularly liked your use of it for sharing links of interest – links one might not have time to blog about. Definitely more efficient.

    Oh, and I blogged about and added my thoughts on this post of yours – here:


    – Vasudev

  • Tim,

    Great post. In your last point, you say that twitter evolves quickly. I’d add that those who use twitter evolve quickly, as well. Because twitter is so simple and easy to use, and you get immediate feedback to your tweets, you can experiment with different kinds of posts and see how that changes the response you get. You can also try out a variety of new following strategies to see how it affects your number of followers. I recently went into a period of experimentation and got 2,000 new followers in six weeks for @WritingSpirit. The learning curve is quick with twitter, because the simplicity of the site keeps you focused.


  • Well I will ask all my friends who wants to know why I twitter to this article. Very well written.

  • i couldn’t agree more, twitter = simplicity

  • Great to have you on Twitter! :)

  • I use Twitter for following conversation on a particular topic. For e.g. ‘Malta’. To do this I use TweetLater. TweetBeep is another alternative.

    In this way you do not need to follow people, you can follow the topic.

  • “Ambient Intimacy” by Leisa Reichelt: http://www.disambiguity.com/ambient-intimacy/

  • Bernie

    Well you said it!. Now i”m following YOU

  • Spot on. I love the fact that you can build a range of services via the API and that everyone is doing lots of experimentation. For example, we launched http://www.tweetmas.com to do just that – use twitter to help people answer the question with their friends “what would you like for Christmas”?

  • Tim – Nice article. If you ever need advice about fruit flies, please ask. I know far too much. – Mark

  • I like the phrase “ambient intimacy” too, but my perception of Twitter is more like radio. You list to stations (in this case people) who broadcast what you care about, and thus you can stay in tune with the topics that matter to you. It’s there when you want to listen, but a background noise when you have something else on which to concentrate.

  • AJ

    Excellent article. Great comments. Twitter becomes more useful/usable when you start finding your community. If you are a teacher, look for other educators. If you are a video editor, look for other editors. And follow anyone who seems interesting — it isn’t a lifelong commitment.

    Jon – check your account Settings: notices: @replies – 3 settings for viewing options – you can select to see @s from everyone.

    I use Twitter more than Facebook because the ads on Facebook are driving me away. I don’t mind ads but the limited, repetitive, and, frankly, offensive nature of the Facebook ads are getting to be too much. Responding to the mini-survey on each ad has not helped, frustrating me even more.

    I’m also a fan of Twhirl because of the many options – especially being able to set “Retweeting” to the now familiar “RT” under the wrench icon: General. Twhirl allows me a great deal of flexibility and is very, very efficient.

  • Funny, I first saw your Tweet on FriendFeed. I think you’re missing the point of FriendFeed, but that’s OK. Out of the 4,600 I’m following on FriendFeed you’re on my top 10 list for most interesting. When I see you later in the month we’ll talk about why you have FriendFeed wrong.

    Oh, and FriendFeed will never kill either Twitter or Facebook. If I ever said that I was wrong to say that. I see FF as an add-on to Twitter now.

  • Robert,

    If you now agree that FF is an add-on to twitter, I’m down with that. I just can’t see it as a viable competitor. It adds one thing too many.

    But I do see what great use you make of it, so it may just be a matter of different tools for different purposes.

    I do love the social aggregation aspect of friendfeed, though. If Friendfeed didn’t have commenting, which makes the S/N ratio too high for me, I might use it instead of twitter. But commenting is the thing you push the hardest, so it clearly works for you.

    The cool thing is that we’ve got lightweight tools that let us all make the best use of social thinking and sharing.

  • Not sure why my trackback didn’t post, but while I was responding to Battelle’s tweet yesterday, I got your tweet about this post and had to start over…

    Could Twitter’s transcendent clarity trump Facebook?”

    In a nutshell, the issue of Twitter posting status to Facebook, but not the other way around, and then of what happens to replies, really points up how the two are evolving together and the difference in philosophy between being simple and open vs. most closely protecting and keeping closed what you perceive as your highest value asset, while keeping it buried amongst complexity.

  • Aneesh

    It’s strange that the most useful tools emerging these days are often the hardest to evangelize. You’ve done it well.

  • Interesting that you want a “comment-less” FriendFeed. I find the comments there to be the best part of it. Shows that no one tool will serve every purpose or work style.

    But, since the first day I’ve asked FriendFeed for the ability to “talk to” the database in real time.

    I would love it if you could say “show me all my FriendFeed items without comments.”

    Me? I want to ask “can you show me all items that Tim O’Reilly wrote that have two or more comments on them?” See, comments are one way to get rid of the posts you do that aren’t that good (there aren’t many of them in your case). They are metadata that tells me there is “signal” attached.

    It’s funny that you think comments bring too much noise, though. I see far more noise on Twitter. Bu that might be because I’m following 21,000 people. :-)

  • Deepa Prabhu

    Perfect. Can’t remember when I enjoyed reading something so much. These are all the reasons why I love Twitter too.

  • re: comments

    I would love to see a blog that automatically bridged comments to twitter/identi.ca etc and v. versa properly. I don’t think FriendFeed quite gets it. I am always frustrated when commentary from a blog post is split between twitter and the post itself. Why does twitter not need comments? Because twitter is meta-commentary; on what you are doing/reading/thinking.

    Still needs some plumbing.

  • i can tell the same things about FF, so what the advantage oft witter compared with FF for users (i’m not talking about developers and money makers)?

  • Twitter makes my head explode with all the information that emanates from it. I love that. My blog used to be the first place on the web that I checked. Then MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. And Twitter sometimes defeats the purpose of checking my Google Reader. Aggregation is your friend!

    However, I do appreciate the ability to tune out other people’s conversations. If you’re @replying to someone, someone with which you’re holding a conversation, I don’t need to be a part of it. It’s not always necessary. It’s sort of like eavesdropping, in some regard. And I’d rather have the option to turn my cheek. Retweeting serves a useful purpose, if someone I’m not following is pushing out relevant, useful information that you’d like to share with me. But I don’t want to take part in every conversation of every single person that I follow. And I don’t need to. That defeats the purpose. The information then becomes overwhelming, and transforms itself into background noise. I rue the day that I view Twitter as “background noise.”

  • Nice post.

    I like Twitter’s (brilliant/frustrating at time) 140 word limit – it filters excessive spewing (aka diahria of the mouth) and adds focus to spontaneity.

    Twitter is just more fun than FF for me, and ditto to what EstherSchindler commented above.

  • Thanks for this Tim.

    Response in three parts. 1) Why I twitter: I often get asked, “Should CEOs blog?” and I think you’ve addressed the central question extending it to “Should CEOs Twitter/microblog?” when you mentioned the 5000 followers waiting for your updates. At it’s core, the question is do you have constituents and something to say to them. For me, this is first my team and clients, then prospects, then digital marketing community at large, pretty much in that order. And the more I stay true to that focus the more value I add and comments I get from the outer rings. For CEOs at any major company your core brand is conveyed by this workforce–think of Howard Schultz’s 170,000 barrister/retail employees on the large scale or @Zappos Tony Hsieh’s 350+ employees on Twitter and 1200+ overall. Shouldn’t you be sharing what’s of interest to you and your core values?

    2) What I twitter: totally agree that the tweets, blog posts, bookmarks, photos, videos, slideshows and more I’ve opened a separate twitter account @silvafeed that is fed by my FriendFeed account. That might add to your thinking about whether FriendFeed and Twitter align or compete.

    3) Like Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture head-fakes, I’m not really just doing it for my stated constituents. I’m leaving breadcrumbs for my kids from a father passionate about his endeavors, responsible for supporting the greater efforts and connecting with the times. I lost my father early in his life and have spent some effort deconstructing and reconstructing his life through his deeds and friendships. You can draw the parallels, with the exception that I intend to be there while they follow the breadcrumbs. :-)

    One last comment on your @reply comment on RT vs just @reply. It may not appear in the livestream of your followers, but it can appear easily in the RSS feed–or FriendFeed–archive of your history, as in: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=@timoreilly

    Be Great. Cheers! Mark Slva

  • Tim,

    excellent article. you’ve hit on the crucial points that makes Twitter a powerful communication tool.

    however, i’m with Scoble on this one because in my case, i’ve grown to love Friendfeed first before i plunged into using Twitter. those two go great together. they perform complementary functions: Tweeter is willing to be embraced and extended, Friendfeed is excellent at embracing and extending.

    Twitter is perfect for one-to-many broadcasting. Friendfeed excels at aggregating and communicating with your followers and people you follow (e.g. via comments, IM, real-time, etc.). and because Friendfeed gives you *granular control* over your stuff and other people’s stuff, it’s more effective at reducing the S/N ratio. Friendfeed is also my top choice for (hyper)streaming because once i set it up, i can bring in all my stuff in a neat portal, whether be it on Friendfeed or integrated in my traditional blog. (e.g. http://www.c4chaos.com/hyperstream )

    that said, i do love both. sometimes i no longer notice where Twitter ends and Friendfeed begins. these two apps are tied at the hip, at least on how i use them. that’s because i like to broadcast and interact with smart people.


  • I love Twitter simply becomes it makes dynamic moments happen. That’s why I sought out to find people who have had some of those dynamic moments. Simply it’s a case where one person has a need, and others respond in the time of need.



  • Cindyg

    How safe if twhirl? When trying to install it, I am getting the message that it will have access to my computer.

  • Great post, really nails so many heads as to why Twitter is the hottest thing in social media. It’s amazing to look back just a few months ago and remember how problematic it was. But the community stuck with it. That alone showed that Twitter is unique, and people who love it rooted for it to work out the kinks. I don’t spend much time trying to explain all the reasons why people and businesses should be on Twitter. I encourage them to dip their toes into the stream and see for themselves.

    I’m http://Twitter.com/BrickandClick

  • I really started using FriendFeed because of something Robert Scoble posted at Twitter. I followed him over there because at FF you can have an exchange of ideas in real time with intelligent people like Robert and those who are interested in that conversation.

    I’ve found it much faster and easier to get a feel for who knows what and where more in-depth and complex discussions are taking place.

    While I do use both every day now, for me FF was much more intuitive and far less linear.

  • Great post. You didn’t mention one factor that I really love, and that Luis Suarez touched on in his keynote bit at Web 2.0 Expo Europe: its focus on the present moment. Email and RSS readers both accumulate while you’re looking at them, and therefore(to me at least) start to engender negative emotional reactions. Twitter (especially read in twhirl) is like walking into a room, and joining a conversation (or many, rather), knowing you can get caught up on the backstory if you need to. It’s also more serendipitous than a reader (which I neglect more and more as I spend more time reading links from my twitter stream) and in some ways a better filter of interestingness. Twitter engenders all sorts of positive emotional responses as a channel to personal connection and interesting and relevant content, and I find myself WANTING to spend time in it and dreading opening my email or my reader.
    Also, you should have known the ambient intimacy reference! Leisa Reichelt was also a keynote at Web 2.0 Expo Europe.

  • Thank you for the depth of you analysis on Twitter and its impact. Could not agree with you more on the integration or undermining of Facebook. 90%+ of my Facebook updates now come from Twitter as well. Also, my blog posts and reading are heavily influenced by Twitter. Looking forward to your continued analysis of this powerful but simple tool.

    Bert DuMars

  • Marc

    Twitter Rules! and every day there are new services based on Twitter that allows to share more info, working as a platform where to build simple services: http://twitpic.com for photos, blip.fm for music, http://plazz.me for location, etc.

  • Laurel Ruma

    If you want to find out more about Twitter or even write your own Twitter applications, check out O’Reilly’s soon to be published “Twitter API Up and Running” by @kmakice now available as a Rough Cut: http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157791/index.html

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    Tim, I would very much appreciate it if you could make your FF feed public. By requiring your approval to be able to follow you there, you’re erecting a barrier for the main social aggregation function.

    I suppose I could create an ‘imaginary’ Tim O’Reilly, but given that you do in fact have a FF account, I’m unsure what the value is to you to make people jump through that particular hoop.

  • Tim-

    Thanks for the excellent post. Your posts have become one of my required reads on twitter and provide an excellent example for all us (me especially) of how to use twitter to help others and enhance others use/experience of the network in real-time, hourly and daily.

    I am very interested in a twitter feature that is curently turned off (as are the Gillmor Gang and Dave Winer (among others) who are leading the discussion/pushing for its return) which is: Track or the ability to subscribe in to any given word or subject and get real-time feed via twitter of those who post using the word or subject.

    Track provides a completely new way to extend twitter in exciting and necessary ways as we recently saw with the #mumbai tragedy. With Track one will be able to subscribe to any concept or word and follow it and its accompanying swarm of conversation – which reminds me of some of the concepts William Gibson discussed decades ago in Idoru.

    Would be great to get your opinion and thoughts on Track and what it means for the future of twitter and the network in general.

    Again thanks for all the quality posts you share on twitter and ones like this here on radar.

    -Andrew | @korf420

    *Kortina – great post on facebook and facebook connect

    **Scoble – amusing that much value was added to this post in the comments – I am with the Tim though – friendfeed still has not made it into a must use application – the ability to create groups makes it something I think I will be using more in the future.

  • @Michael –

    As far as I know, my FriendFeed IS public. I just went and checked, and it is indeed set to be so.

  • A couple folks were kind enough to point out that I didn’t phrase part of my longer post above very well. Yes, I can see all my @replies, even to those I am not following, I just have to remember to check the @replies section where I find I miss things (though I’m aware some Twitter clients show these more visibly). My RSS-based solution for tracking usages of @jonerp is still very useful, however, for cases such as the retweet format where I won’t see “RT @jonerp” unless I have a search setup to track those, since leading with the RT means it won’t be tracked as a reply. One thing I don’t know is if someone replies to multiple people, as in, @timoreilly @jonerp……whether you would see them in the reply section if your handle was not the first one used, I would suspect not, thus the value of finding a way to make sure you don’t miss references to your Tweets. Please correct me if I am wrong and thanks to those who clarified.

    – Jon –

  • Michael R. Bernstein


    That’s funny… I don’t think it was public on September 26th, since that is when I sent a request to subscribe (and I still see the request in my subscription list changelog).

    Now though, I can see your public feed page, but the button in the upper right only says ‘block’, not ‘subscribe’ or ‘unsubscribe’.

    I would venture to guess that there is a bug when there are unfulfilled subscription requests when a feed is made public.

    Sorry for making an unwarranted assumption, Tim.

  • @Jon Reed –

    I think we’re still talking past each other. The point of retweeting is to take something from @whomever and broadcast it to people who aren’t already following @whomever. If you use an @, @whomever and her followers get re-treated to the same tweet, not retweeted.

    Even as it is, retweeting is a pain in the ass for people who follow both, and thus see it twice. Would be a really nice feature upgrade for twitter to filter out retweets for people who’ve already seen the original. The originator him or herself might like to know they’ve been retweeted, but it’s more important to get it out to others with minimal duplication.

  • Tim, I think we’re on the same page in terms of the value of retweeting, you can use whatever form you want as far as I’m concerned.

    What I *am* saying is that whether you retweet or reply doesn’t impact who sees the tweet. Since I follow you, I see all your tweets, whether it’s a reply or a retweet, whether I follow the person you’re replying to or not. I learn about who you follow just as much from your replies as your retweets, if that makes any sense. (though replies are perhaps different in that you can adjust your settings there on what you see).

    The benefit of your RT format is that, as you say, it gives a more formal recognition to those who you are retweeting. The downside is that since it isn’t a reply, it’s easier for someone to miss the retweet in their volume of tweets and realize that you retweeted them, since Twitter doesn’t stockpile those who RT you for later review, which is why I mentioned how I use Twitter search and RSS to track all usages of @jonerp whether they are replies or not.

    I agree with you that filtering out retweets that you’ve already seen would be a good featured.

    At any rate, Tweet on!

    – Jon –

  • Fran Toolan

    The thing I love the most about twitter is that I get news, and new ideas from people I choose rather than from media companies that choose what should be important to me.

    Twitter has replaced the main stream media for me. If there is an important story out there, someone is commenting on it, or blogging about it.

    thanks for talking about this topic. I’ve been feeling the need to blog on it myself lately. Now, I’ll just RT @timoreilly


  • Great stuff, Tim. I was at your DevLearn keynote, and this is just another tech tool we’ll use for a long time, both in personal and professional environments. The simplicity and extensibility of Twitter is what makes it work.

  • I love friendfeed and twitter. I feel like i’m much more educated about my industry as a result of them. However, I find it hard to capture what the final business benefit of it is. How can we create value via twitter beyond a publishing model.

  • I don’t find it useful to follow more people than I can actually communicate with on a daily/weekly basis. Especially if they have nothing in common with me. I’m new to Twitter, but I enjoy the back and forth with a comfortable group of “friends.” I do not follow spammers or people who offer nothing in the way of personal communication. I find it a waste of time.

  • @Tim,

    Identi.ca is a platform built with Open Source software and uses an open protocol to create a distributed and federated microblogging network. You have an account at http://identi.ca/timoreilly and many ORM folks are on the site.

    The network still has only a few percent of the people on Twitter. However, I think that most people with experience on the Internet have a better feeling about distributed, open networks compared to walled gardens provided by single vendors. After all, we’re on the Web, not on AOL. You warned about the dangers of closed, proprietary networks in your great article on Open Source in the Cloud:


    I guess I wonder: what would it take to get you personally to use Identi.ca more and Twitter less? You clearly don’t need to stay on Twitter to stay in touch with people. People will change services to stay in touch with you.

    High-profile social media experts who believe in the Open Source ethos can make a lot of difference for Identi.ca and for an open Web right now. Let me know what your switchover criteria would be — I’d be glad to make it happen.

  • Paul B

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. It is the first thing I’ve seen that has convinced me to give Twitter a try. I fear that for me it may induce sensory overload, but I’ll give it a shot.

  • Thanks for the post. I’m new to Twitter and it is such a wonderful tool for communication. I think Microblogging will become an important tool in education.

  • @Evan –

    If you’ve followed my career as an open source advocate, you should have noted that I’ve always had mixed feelings about free and open source projects whose goal was primarily to create an open version of something else. I feel this way about the GNU vision, projects like the Gimp, and every other free software that’s “against” something instead of “for” something, or that tell people they “ought” to use one piece of software rather than another.

    It’s always seemed to me that the most interesting open source projects have their own wellspring, their own itch to scratch.

    That’s why I’ve always been a bigger fan of the BSD/Apache free software tradition, which doesn’t look on commercial or even proprietary software as an enemy, but as a choice that reasonable developers can make.

    I do agree that open standards and interoperability are good, but I also believe that “open enough” is often “good enough.” Twitter is a network citizen in a way that, say, Facebook or Apple, is not.

    I also don’t buy the idea that control by a commercial entity automatically means software is bad. Most open source projects are controlled by a single entity! Just try forking emacs or gcc or the Linux kernel! Sometimes a fork happens to free software projects, but it’s usually because a project has stagnated, not because someone just wants to pull in a different direction. And when it does happen (e.g. with the too-many BSDs, it’s often destructive, not constructive.)

    The question is whether the entity in question is a good citizen or not, or whether they abuse their power.

    So, for example, I support Apache over IIS and Firefox over IE, because it is clear that Microsoft was trying to control the browser as a way of controlling the web.

    I don’t think we have that worry with twitter.

    I do believe you’re trying to do something interesting with identi.ca – distributed architectures are a great frontier to explore. But I don’t see any moral imperative to support projects that use them.

    So if you want to find an argument that would make me use identi.ca rather than twitter, it would be that it lets me do things that twitter doesn’t do, not that it is somehow morally better and worthy of support for that reason.

    I do wish you well, and I do hope that twitter doesn’t give me cause to say “Wow, we need a free alternative, because they are in a dominant position and taking advantage of us.” I won’t deny that that is a possibility. But based on what I know of the other Evan, I don’t think twitter would be an evil monopolist, even if they can break out of the social networking pack enough to be able to do so.

    The other argument for identi.ca, of course, would be that the users are there. As I said above, I signed up for twitter just to check it out (as I signed up for identi.ca and friendfeed, and a host of other services.) Twitter is the one I ended up with because that’s where the people I wanted to follow, and the people who wanted to follow me, ended up congregating.

    I just don’t have time to be in both services, and I think you overestimate my influence to think that if I were on identi.ca, people would follow me there. I am on both twitter and identi.ca, and was posting to neither. I started posting on twitter because the followers kept accumulating there, people who wanted to hear from me on twitter.

    Let me know when you have some killer features that are useful to me that aren’t in twitter, and I’ll check them out. Thanks.

  • You hit the nail on the head! Twitter works and spreads because of it’s simplicity. I love that it integrates so well with other services and is a great way to share information. I absolutely agree that it’s perfect more for finding the information gems than for trying to have a conversation! Social networking doesn’t just happen on one platform, if people work together to make great things happen… so do the social media apps!

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    Tim, probably the #1 thing that identi.ca let’s you do that you can’t with Twitter is self-host. The same reasons this blog is at radar.oreilly.com instead of radar-oreilly.wordpress.com or radar-oreilly.blogspot.com should be applicable.

    So, is sonar.oreilly.com at all compelling?

    Still, if it is features you are after, Evan already has a few planned.

  • I prefer Twitter to Facebook because it’s easier to make friends with people you have never met.

  • If you’ve followed my career as an open source advocate, you should have noted that I’ve always had mixed feelings about free and open source projects whose goal was primarily to create an open version of something else.

    […] I do agree that open standards and interoperability are good, but I also believe that “open enough” is often “good enough.”

    And here’s the problem with the Tim O’Reilly / Eric Raymond kind of “advocacy”; it’s not advocating anything. It says “use what’s most convenient, I don’t care”.

    Why develop GNU/Linux when proprietary Unix has the same features? Why use GNOME or KDE when there’s Windows or Mac? Why use your own mail server when Google promises to only read your mail in a very roundabout way that probably protects your privacy, in a certain limited sense of the word “privacy”. Why campaign for a free Java when proprietary Java works fine?

    It’s not clear what, if anything, this kind of advocacy has achieved, beyond indiscriminately distributing halos to proprietary vendors who are “open enough”, and drawing public attention away from the issues that are considered important by genuine advocates of free software and open standards, replacing them with a warm, fuzzy cloud of buzzwords.

  • @Tim

    I’m a Gimpshop user and not familiar with the Gimp backstory nor the developers’ ideology. As a user, I don’t see Gimp as “against” anything, but rather “for” accessibility — for people and organizations that can’t afford Photoshop. It’s quirky, it’s not as nice as Photoshop, but it gets the basics done and I can recommend it to the small, underfunded nonprofits I work with.

  • With the recent demise of Pownce, I would think that people are going to be more careful with what walled garden they choose to plant their data in (though I think twitter is pretty safe). Even Google, as you retweeted today Tim, is cutting back services. The idea that Identi.ca is built on distributed, open source software is a great feature to be sure and we as citizens of the Internet deserve to have access to (if not have our data in a local distributed database like CouchDB) our data in a reusable standards based format. More thoughts on it here.

    Having said that, I think that there is a great opportunity for building a client application that layers a distributed database on top of twitter that would store all of your tweet timeline.

  • Tim,

    I just posted on using Twitter with my students at American University. The first post is entitled “I Hate Twitter” and I will be shortly posting “I Love Twitter” based on their experiences. Your summary of the “why” will be a great addition to the conversation for future semesters. If you are interested in the classroom experience, you can check it out at:


    I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks.

  • Tim, great post. Have been reading your tweets and blog for a while. Interesting read and also discussion with Scoble. I love twitter AND friendfeed. Both I use for 2 totally different reasons. Great post and thanks for your sharing-learn something new everytime-you are the “Dude-o’reilly!”

  • Great post Tim, one of the few best ones I have come across in the past two weeks of reactivating my twitter account after 1.5years absence.

    can’t write better than you

    Question is that this seems to be the accepted ‘normal’ usage of twitter, one of the reason I never blogged was due to wanting to keep my personal information private.

    Power of twitter as I see it is ‘concise micro-blogging’, which saves me time as I don’t have time to wade through all the Blogs and comments of the multiple sectors that I follow.

    But twitter enables me to follow people’s updates/news stories in a condensed timeframe (am still trying to find what is optimal).

    and can delve into it when there is time.

    However, what you have not touched on is how/whether for people like me that would like to extend my business relationships/friendships but in a managable scale, as I generally focus on B2B, therefore, keeping up relationships with multiple contacts with key organisations across multiple sectors is already too much let alone another few thousands if not multiple tens of thousands of contacts.

    If Twitter or the derivation of it could cater for people like me, it would be brilliant, one key aspects would be how I keep my feed private and yet can elect certain posts to be public. this should be achievable!?

    then, and most likely only then, would a good percentage of the mass market would signup and contribute in a ‘perceived safer and more private environment’..

    Just my thoughts at the moment.



  • Hi Tim,
    Just landed into Twitt a week ago and discovered the real power of what could be and its added value.

    I’m following several people, you are included, because due to my position (Innovation Manager at espaitec, Science and Technology Park of University Jaume I of Castellon) Twitter is provinding me a lot of knowledge and perspectives of new digital world. Yesterday I had a lunch with Adolfo Plasencia, here at Castellon, and we were talking about you (he interviewed you during the past Open Source World Conference at Malaga) and we agreed the importance of the change of culture required to allow being embedded in this new digital nervous system.

    I’ll be following you and I will try to get good conclusions that you can follow in my blog (english version)

    Thanks and keep on track

  • Hi Tim, Great dicussion! Also like to note that many digital strategists are also identifying customers via stalkonomics on twitter. Best, Paul Watson @terrortv

  • Just to let you know, in my free time I belong to a NGO (non-governamental-organisation) called Radioamateurs without frontiers (www.rsf-rwf.org). I’m leading a Project to bring internet-open.source-web 2.0 to the Saharian refugees. The next 27th of February I’ll be flying to Tinduf to roll-out the project. At the end, those people will be able to open a door to the world and bring their voices online to us.

    Now, the most difficult part will be to teach them everything in less than 48 h.!! as we only can be for a weekend (27-28 and 29 of Feb)

    I hope I’ll be able to manage it effectively

  • Hi Tim, just saw your post about the “lamps” made with plastic bottles and clorox in Brazil.

    Here it is another good example of good use of plastic bottles (and milk boxes): solar panels to get warm water at home: http://tinyurl.com/5gqnwphttp://tinyurl.com/5gn2kt

    The video is in Portuguese, as it is the document, but watching the video everyone can have a good idea of how it works.


  • Steve Zimmerman

    Thanks for the post Tim. You have some excellent insights on Twitter.

  • hi tim,

    i am a beginning blogger, slightly bewildered but strongly committed to social networking tools.

    as an aggregating tool, i am wondering where is the best point of entry? is it through twitter on my cell phone, a plug in on my blog, through facebook? somehow, i feel overwhelmed and not particularly clear about how to best access and optimize the potential of twitter. any advice?

    thanks, hoong yee

  • Tim,

    Twitter also empowers developers just like Visual Studio did back in the ’90s. There are many start-ups making money today using twitter as the part of their back-end.

    I personally have launched a number of twitter-centric products that either generate revenue or drive users to our revenue generating applications.

    Our products are getting more useful with each new release, our two newest products http://TweetAccess.com allows anyone with a protected Twitter account to charge a subscription fee for access to their tweets (as well as video, audio, ebooks and pictures) and http://TwitReferral.com allows users to rate, review and refer other Twitter users.

    Whiz Bang Zoom Labs

  • I enjoy twitter because it’s about impact. You are forced to be creative. If you can’t grab attention while providing a useful tweet with 140 characters you won’t gain many followers.

  • Tim

    I love twitter because you are able to get to know so many real people. I think the bio is underrated. If you click on a person’s link and find out about their site it is easy to talk with them about their site and make a new friend.

  • Twitter is great because of its flexibility and instant way of getting a message out to the world