Monday, October 31, 2011

Twitter and me – part 2

When I first heard of Twitter, with tweets just 140 characters long, I thought it sounded great! I thought it would be full of witty people writing epigrams like those of Martial or Oscar Wilde.
More fool me. 

Last week, feeing increasingly disenchanted with the big T, I tweeted this...
@suehepworth @twitter I'm a writer, blogger, email constantly, don't have a TV, have no friends on Twitter. I WANT to like Twitter. Help me!
…and I got no response from anyone. Zilch. Nada.
Not one of my  41 followers responded.  (I hate telling you I only have 41 because it feels so pathetic, but you could find it out for yourself anyway, because Twitter insists on making everyone’s statistics public knowledge - I have complained to Isaac about this but to no avail.) I probably have only a handful of followers because I have no friends on Twitter, tweet on average once a day and not about TV and celebrities, nor do I join in on trending topics. But mostly I think it’s because the people who like my blog and like my books are not in the category of people who “get” Twitter.
Then on Tuesday, I posted Disappointed in Twitter, and Isaac, who has over 4000 followers, and who works at Twitter, tweeted this…
@isaach lessons for Twitter from my mom -> RT @suehepworth: disappointed in twitter - read all about
and I got a response. A few people tweeted to me direct with suggestions and comments. And I had a huge swell of hits on my blog.
So this is the result…
@robinsloan, a colleague of Isaac’s, sent me two suggestions
and I like them both a lot. They have directed me to interesting articles and features on the net, and I think the ratio of “tweets of interest” to “tweets not of interest” is acceptable, so thank you, @robinsloan.
When I checked Twitter first thing this morning, though, the whole of my visible timeline was taken up with tweets from @brainpicker and I panicked - Omigod!  Where are Isaac’s tweets? And it struck me then that one of the things that annoys me about Twitter is that you can’t delete or hide irrelevant tweets. You can’t clear the decks of detweetus and concentrate on the tweets that matter, like you can when you look at your email and delete the stuff you’re not going to bother with. This makes my brain feel cluttered, and it also induces a feeling of unease every time I log on to Twitter, because there is so much there that I have no time to follow up. This makes me feel inefficient and inadequate. Over time, I have been conditioned to associate Twitter with these negative feelings.
But back to the problem of finding interesting people to follow. Someone suggested via Isaac that I use a site called so I could find people to follow according to my interests. I began by looking at Writers, but they were either publicising their stuff (e.g. John Cleese) or  having personal conversations (e.g. Susan Orlean.) In general, following individuals who tweet doesn’t work for me. I searched the Inspiration category and came up with @tinybuddha which I did like.
The categories of Tweeters on the site are ranked according to how many people follow them, but I don’t much care about this. The Sun has 3 million readers, but so what? I prefer the Guardian, with readership less than ten percent of that.
There are many and various categories  of Twitter user, and I am the type who wants to follow:
1/ the three people in my family who tweet
2/ people who write amusing self-contained one-liners, e.g. @greenberg (and I’d welcome suggestions of other people who do this)
3/ one-offs, like @arjunbasu who writes 140 character short stories
4/ tweeters with links that interest me e.g. @brainpicker, @lettersofnote @tinybuddha
5/ organisations with whom I am in sympathy, or who have news about issues I care about e.g. @NatAutSoc (the National Autistic Society) and @MaanNewsAgency which has up to the minute news from the Gaza strip.
This exercise has clarified for me what Twitter can and cannot do, how I can use it and not be dismayed.
I may now have a happy-ish rapprochement with Twitter, but what of all those people like me who join Twitter, become disenchanted because they’re drowning in detweetus, and who have no insiders at Twitter to guide them through, publicise their distress, or field suggestions from colleagues. I was especially lucky in that @robinsloan cottoned on to the kind of tweets I’m looking for.
Isaac told me he sometimes asks job applicants to Twitter how they would explain Twitter to their parents. Perhaps he should be asking “How would you help your parents be happy using Twitter?”


  1. I'm an ex-coworker of Isaac. Hi!

    A note about not wanting to follow people who mostly have personal conversations on Twitter (ala @susanorlean): if you're following Susan but not the person she's tweeting, that tweet won't show up in your timeline. So if @susanorlean tweets @murryk, you only see that if you're following @murryk or if you click directly onto @susanorlean's tweets.

  2. You're right, Matt. I think I go directly to peoples' tweets when I get impatient with all the stuff on my timeline and can't find the people I want. I will try following susanorlean as a test, and see what i get.

  3. My mom prefers to follow the same types of accounts as you have listed here. I'm going to recommend a couple of accounts she follows that you may also be interested in:

    @mountain_goats - a rock band that posts witty one-liners on every subject from icelandic black metal to modern political discourse.


    @callmekatina - (someone she actually knows) PhD student in Comparative Immunology, former student of juvenile skeletal remains/paleopathology (MS), poker-girlfriend, admirer of dorgis.

    @support and @mobilesupport - Twitter Support. (They respond to mentions/DMs!)

    I would also note that I've made many great discoveries on Twitter by looking at the "following" lists of the people I follow. It's an easy way to find interesting sources because they've passed through the "reputable source" filter. So I would (and have!) recommend the method I've used here to anyone.

    I'll take a moment here to note that you can view all the mentions twitter gets by typing "@twitter" into the search bar. As you'll notice, there are thousands and thousands per day, and unfortunately this means that some of the legitimate replies to @twitter get lost amidst the noise (my search is refreshing with 20 new tweets to @twitter every minute; i'm sure it's even more during peak hours!) I'm sorry that yours got lost, but I bet that if you retried your query with #twitter (so all of your followers could then see it, not just the ones who follow both you and @twitter), you might have more favorable results.

    I'm really glad you wrote these posts! If only all Twitter moms were so articulate with their feedback of the service.

  4. Hi there - thanks for all this helpful information and all these suggestions.
    I read recently in the press that a lot of people register with Twitter and then after a couple of weeks give it up, disappointed and disenchanted. Does Twitter care about this? Are they engaging in any research to find out how they can make the Twitter experience more enjoyable for people like me? I used to be a social researcher, and would be very happy for you to fly me over to talk to you about my experience of Twitter, and to suggest some lines of enquiry. (And naturally, in the evenings, spend time with @isaach and @thebeean and @wendyverse.)

  5. Yes, we care about it and we do a lot of research to find out why that happens and make the experience of Twitter one that's simpler (yet difficult to abandon.) You may be interested in following some of our researchers - @trammell and @kvanscha. If you @replied trammell re: testing in person at HQ, I'm sure he'd be willing to consider it!

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