Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Has Twitter jumped the shark?

Twitter is slowing turning us all into broadcasters.

That seems to be the case among the people I am following. Even among my close contacts, I'm noticing that there are few actual conversations happening, it's mostly a stream of personal updates, with the occasional link thrown in.

To prove this, I decided to check the recent tweets from my contacts on Twitter. I am following over 15,000 people now, so Tweetdeck is a godsend, because it allows me to segment those followers into groups so I can be sure to keep up with people more easily.

One of the groups I have created is 'My 100', which are close friends and business contacts who I absolutely want to keep up with.

I decided to go to the tweets from My 100 and see how many tweets from this group would pass before I found a tweet where someone was leaving a reply to someone else. In other words, how many tweets would pass by before I found a tweet from a member of My 100 who was engaged in a conversation with someone else.

73 tweets passed before I found a person replying to someone else (God bless you, @ShannonPaul). SEVENTY THREE!!!! I figured the number would be a dozen, at most. Now granted, there were several RTs in that, but 72 tweets passed before I found one where someone was actually talking to someone else.

BTW just for the hell of it, I decided to conduct the same experiment on my All Friends column. There a mere 17 tweets went by before I found one left directly to another person.

It seems we are shifting from using Twitter as a conversational tool, to using it as a broadcasting tool. We are no longer talking WITH Twitter members, we are talking at them. I'm doing it as well, I checked my TweetStats, and now 72% of my tweets are replies to others. That's good, but at one point I was pushing 80%.

Are you guys seeing the same thing? Or am I just being bitchy because everyone isn't using Twitter the same way I am? Long-time readers of The Viral Garden will remember that in the Summer of 2008 I went on and on about how amazing Plurk was. A big reason why, was because of all the amazing conversations a small group of us had there.

I miss that. And I really haven't seen it on Twitter in several months.


Ruth said...

Hey Mack- I was just thinking of the good old days when Twitter was still fun, and saw your tweet linking back to this post. I think you're hunch would probably be proven with a more comprehensive analysis. At this rate Twitter will find itself obsolete since Twitter-like features are increasing in use in more robust apps across the web.

Matches Malone said...

I've noticed that I'm attempting to have more conversations, ever since The Scobe said that Chris Brogan was doing it wrong....

Alli Worthington said...

Ah, Plurk. Blargh. (forgive me)

For me Tweetdeck keeps it manageable. I have a column for close friends, business contacts, people I learn from, etc...

I reply more often than broadcast, and I use DMs to communicate most frequently.

The broadcasters just get put into the tweetdeck column I never bother to scroll over and read. :)

If I really want to get depressed about the state of Twitter I can just click on a "I Love Justin Beiber" trending topic or #YouKnowYouWrongCause meme. Those streams mark the end of civilization as we know it.

Scott Schablow said...

Mack, I noticed this a couple of weeks ago and since then I've really backed off of Twitter. I logged on one day determined to jump into a conversation but I COULDN'T FIND ONE. I found nothing but one sided statements, links or retweets. Disillusioned and dejected I logged out. I dragged myself over to Facebook but got pelted in the face with a ham sammich. No luck there either. I'm thinking of dusting off the old BBS server. Or maybe I'll pick up the phone. Oh my, is this what it's come to? NO, I shall not let conversation die on Twitter. Tomorrow I vow to actually start one or more AND to find and join in others. Who's with me?

Unknown said...

Hi Mack,
I don't have "good old days" on Twitter :( ...yet. And I could do a "My 100" but I'd leave out 6 poor sobs, which would seam rude, LOL. But I do agree that the conversational tone is much more agreeable to my Twitter use. #blogchat is a great example.
However, even with Tweetdeck chirping in the background, I can't always leave other work to chat - live or virtually - and often leave people hanging. What's the generally accepted protocol for such?
Also, I try to post something interesting when I know I'm not going to be Tweeting for a while, so that the last comment to Nancy Noone, which doesn't make sense to anyone else, isn't still sitting up there looking silly. Maybe I'm overthinking?

Unknown said...

PS. The misspelling of "no one" as "noone" is a pet peeve of mine, except when used as a name as here. It still grates me though.
Poor Nancy.

Anonymous said...

When folks start following 15,000 people, what do you expect? I have a "MVPs" list too, keep it to 100 max, and only follow those folks. Am I missing a wider universe? Yes. But am I keeping it real? Yes.

Stefano Maggi said...

I like your analysis, Mack.

If we take a look at the possible causes, I think the change happens because twitter is now frequented by a wider audience. In the early days, the rate of critics and creators (to say it with Forrester Research) was very high. If you add to those all the people who are spectators that came later, you have the current situation.
I would expect to have even less direct interaction in the future (in terms of %). But it doesn't mean IMO, twitter has become worse. As you know, there's no "right way" to use it, is there?

Anonymous said...


Maybe you should be more selective about whom you follow based on the mutual value you get out of it. The tool is only as good as the the usage you make of it.

Read Brent Leary's take on twitter for an interesting point of view


MineThatData said...

A year ago, I had 400 followers. I'd ask a question of the day, and have 23 folks jump in for a conversation.

Today, with 1,700 followers, I'll ask a question of the day, and have 3 folks jump in for a conversation.

Yes, things changed. I do think Tweetdeck plays a role --- I have the folks that I pay close attention to, and then everybody else gets pushed aside. You're not really following people you are following, and that makes a true conversation really hard to have.

Christa M. Miller said...

I've noticed this too, both for myself and for others. For myself it's a result of finding more paying work... and also "information overload." I see lots of great links and want to be sure I tweet them for my followers to benefit from.

I still see good conversations from the small digital forensics community I'm part of, though it seems not as often (of course, I may just be missing them when I'm on). And in general, folks might trade @ replies but not with the depth they used to.

I don't know that Twitter has jumped the shark... more like evolved along with users who have adapted to the explosion of social networking in their work and personal lives?

Mark said...

Yep. This happened awhile ago. I think I have a tweet from a few months ago where I said "remember when...". You and I wouldn't have really connected if it weren't for "old twitter". But the issue is scalability. I agree Tweetdeck helps, but if I'm not in your 100 then what happens? You've scaled me out. You've prioritized and that's fine. In general I just think it's evolving into what it should be. Regardless of what Evan and company thought they were building originally, the reality is that the platform has become for immediate gratification for info. People want it now, they want to share it now, and they don't want to wait for Google to find it and spit it back as that's not quick enough. That said, people want to find people immediately as well, and Twitter still delivers that. It's just no longer the place to chat. You will do some, but it's about the information in real time more than about chatting. Old schoolers may not like it, but that's why you have your 100. You can "keep it real" with those folks, but it's changing regardless.

Denise said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I am very new to Twitter and was really looking forward to meeting some new people and having some great convos. While I am having fun reading all the cool stuff, there hasn't been much conversation. I am going to look into Tweetdeck - maybe that will help. Also, going to some tweetups may help too. Thanks again.

Mack Collier said...

Ruth I think you are right, and I think this speaks to the natural evolution of all popular online communities. I think there comes a tipping point where the community becomes popular and a LOT of new people discover it, but these new people have no vested interest or sense of ownership in the community. So they will use it in the way that they see fit, and I think that's what's happening now with Twitter, all the new members are, for the most part, seeing it as a place to exchange information and to promote themselves. Conversation takes a back seat. And I think long-term Twitter users are beginning to use Twitter this same way.

So that means that how our networks use Twitter is changing and evolving from how everyone used Twitter when it became popular in the first place.

I think since so many people are on Twitter, that the service can probably survive a few people leaving, and I think many people will stay. But I do think there's now an opportunity for a competitor to offer a similar service that focuses on conversation.

Mack Collier said...

Matches it's funny, I told Chris over a year ago on Twitter that I wasn't going to even try to have a conversation there with him anymore, that there was no way to shout thru the masses to get through to him. I think this is another significant point, our attention can't scale to match the size of our networks.

Mack Collier said...

Scott don't knock BBSes, they rocked back in the day ;)

Mack Collier said...

That, I think we need to remember that Twitter should be a CONVENIENCE tool to let you connect with others. If it's reaching the point where you feel obligated to talk to others at the expense of getting work done, then it's time to shut it off.

Voice of experience, I have to do this almost every day ;)

Mack Collier said...

Anonymous (why?), Mark and Stefano, I agree on who you follow. But the thing is, I'm noticing that even long-time friends that used to use Twitter as a conversational platform, are now becoming more 'broadcasty'. And as I mentioned in the post, my own ratio of replies has fallen.

I think in general, many people used Twitter as a conversational platform, and that's what drove it';s popularity. Now that 'everyone' is on Twitter, we are shifting our usage to less conversation, and more broadcasting.

Remains to be seen if the site's popularity will survive this shift in usage, but my guess is no.

Mack Collier said...

Mark you may be right and I could see a scenario where some of us leave Twitter for another more conversational tool, while the rest stick around for the availability to instant information that Twitter still excels at. Hopefully how Twitter members use Twitter can evolve and the site still thrives. I think this can and will happen, but we'll see.

Mack Collier said...

Denise, one area where Tweetdeck can help is if you search for specific topics that interest you. Then you can see who is talking about those topics, and it can help you connect with people with similar interests. Then you can reach out to them and get a conversation started!

Peter Korchnak said...

I am not surprised by this observation. I came to a similar conclusion a few weeks back (as a few other commenter seem to have), though I only began using Twitter less and didn't blog about it. So thanks for pointing it out publicly, Mack.

If social media tools, including Twitter, are supposed to be a cocktail party, conversations would then be like yelling personal messages across a full room. Better to broadcast to whomever is listening, and converse via other means (like, gasp!, face to face).

Susan Murphy said...

I'd like to see this experiment done on more than one Twitter account, to see if this is actually the case or a result of the selection of that particular 100 people.

I was actually kind of surprised to read this post, as I really haven't seen evidence of this (only speaking from my own experience as well). In fact, I find the people I'm following to be very conversational.

Also keep in mind that Twitter isn't a chat room. I derive a lot of value from simply reading what others have to say, whether it's links, photos of their cute kids, or insightful observations. It doesn't always have to be two-way. In fact, when I post something and I get a bunch of people writing back saying @suzemuse Agreed! Great! Wow!, it's akin to them writing "Great post!" in my blog comments. There's little value and a lot of noise in that.

If you're looking for conversationalists, I think there are still plenty to be found on Twitter. But like anything, one has to seek them out, and often starting the conversation is the best way to get it going.

As for Twitter "jumping the shark", I think that might be a bit premature. "Is Twitter evolving?" might be another question. I would hope it does evolve. It's a natural part of the life of a tool.

Unknown said...

It is very early days in the life of @UOWHO but I have found that Twitter has most certainly been the most effective tool for finding and connecting with people who have an interest, or potential interest in our subject matter. I very much approach
Twitter (all our networks) from a quality over quantity perspective. I don't use any auto follow or DM and always look for conversation potential. I very rarely follow anyone who hasn't followed me first now, and don't automatically follow people who follow me first. Anyone who follows me that I can't see an interest in what we are doing gets the following DM -
"Appreciate the follow, but not sure of yr interest in RAOK - can u @ me to let me know, & will be happy to follow back. Cheers, Jasper"
I probably send that out to 40% of the people that follow me. Guess how many have @replies I have had - yep, zero.

I do RT a lot because it is a great way to get attention to what you are doing without being intrusive. I am always open to conversation and when I do follow someone I always look at their profile so that I can personalize my DM 'Thank you for your follow' message. Auto DMs are one of my per peeves. I find them impersonal and almost discourteous, especially when they contain a link to something that they so obviously haven't checked to see if I might be interested in. They are little more than spam and merely demonstrate that the person cannot be bothered to make the effort to connect with you personally. Auto follow is also a nuisance - I would suggest even a curse! If you mention a word - for example, any foreign currency - then you are inundated with follows from foreign exchange sites - none of whom have any interest in you or what you are doing - it should be renamed - 'auto-spam' rather than 'auto-follow'.

In terms of the conversations I do have - and I think your proportion is probably about right - I find that genuine conversations tend to move to email (and on a couple of occasions, Skype) fairly quickly. You can't really have a good conversation in 140 characters. Twitter is more of an introduction - an ice breaker.
But it is in the conversation that you will get your customers, fans and key influencers, and I'd rather have half a dozen of them than 1000 followers who never read my tweets. It is solely for them that I tweet.

Always happy to converse if anyone wishes to do so - on social media @blogdudes ; changing the world through acts of kindness @uowho - just be sure to let me know you are interested if it is you who are approaching me! And if you twitter about FOREX, please don't bother!

Tanya Lee said...

I agree completely Mack. Although I did remove our company from Plurk due to SM streamlining, the conversations there were fun.

I see the shift in Twitter as well and think that ultimately may be why people end up eventually moving away from Twitter to a more "socially interactive" site.
I see the lack of conversation as a negative, but have also heard to "keep the @ replies to minimum" if using Twitter for business.

There are many schools of thought, but I certainly prefer the more social leaning. Just hit my 3rd year of using Twitter and I have seen the change, it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

Tanya Lee

Davina K. Brewer said...

Mack, Since I joined Twitter a year ago, I've always found it challenging to find conversations I want to join. Guess I'm never on while people are just "talking." Granted I'm not even following 1,000 people but still.

That's one reason I try to make join a tweetchat when my schedule permits. I also try to add something to a RT if I can.

I'll keep watching my stats, make an effort to broadcast less, do more searches for topics when I do have the time to just have a conversation.

My @replies stats are pitiful, thanks for the motivation.

Unknown said...

I think I agree with the people who mentioned scalability and evolution as two contributing factors. It's also important to remember that *most* Twitter users aren't following/followed by thousands of people, so their experience is likely very different. Perhaps more conversational?

Along these same lines, I realized a couple weeks ago that I talk to a core group of people on Twitter -- mostly people who I connected with soon after first joining. That, coupled with the realization that some people think Twitter is to clique-ish, led me to Skype with Twitter folks. Every day for the past two weeks, I've had a 20-min Skype conversation with someone one Twitter that I didn't know very well. It's been a fantastic way to connect with new people and to have real, meaningful conversations. Now, when I see their tweets come by in my stream, I'm much more likely to stop, pay attention and @, RT or DM them.

Sure, Twitter is evolving, but that just means *we* need to evolve to make sure we still find those connections and conversations that drew us to the service in the first place, IMO.


Therese said...

I will agree that Twitter has became more of a broadcasting tool rather than a place where you can connect and build relationships, but at the same time I think the range is pretty dramatic depending on the type of audience you are connecting with. For instance, ironically enough if I look at the group I have for PR and Social Media, then it is a lot more broadcasting. If I look at a group I had set up for a client that provided beauty products, then it was more conversation, same with my 'moms' group, there is more conversation there as well.


Mack Collier said...

Peter I really think sites like FourSquare contribute to this broadcasting mentality. I think it's training us to think that everyone WANTS to know about our every movement and location.

I don't think most people do want to know this, but I've been wrong before ;)

Mack Collier said...

Hey Suze, I agree, I think how people USE Twitter is evolving. This is someway understandable, but I think some users are going from having a few hundred friends following them, to now they have an 'audience' of several thousands. I think as we gain thousands of followers, we lose a personal connection with them, so we shift toward broadcasting, instead of personal connections.

Nature of the beast, as they say...

Mack Collier said...

BTW @CaraKeithley had a great point on Twitter, she wondered if some of the broadcasting is due to employees using Twitter on company time, and not wanting to be seen as 'chit-chatting' on Twitter, so they broadcast.

Good point to make, and I think that factors into the discussion at some level.

Daria Steigman said...

Hi Mack,

I think you're being a little cranky (or maybe you need to find some new people to filter into your "100"?).

My thoughts:

1) First, we need to differentiate between sharing links and broadcasting. Clearly there's more sharing of material, because people have said that Twitter is their new feed aggregator. (For the record, I'm still partial to Google Reader.) People have responded and tried to add value that way.

2) There's also no question that there's more broadcasting. Can you say Foursquare?

3) When Twitter scaled back the @ reply (so that we only see conversations when we follow both people), that left our feeds with a lot less visible engagement.

4)I think the conversation is there, it's just maybe less visible and more in spurts. Chalk that up to divided attention, work, and increasing pressure on everyone to be visible in a lot of places.

Thanks for a good post that made me think!


Marc A. Ross said...

No - I don't think Twitter has jumped the shark.

It seems to me the power of Twitter has always been (and should continue to be) about data/information exchange and real time search - having a conversation is a benefit.

With so many people participating and its inability to allow for easy organizing without external sites/tools - conversing on Twitter is a real challenge.

Unknown said...

Mack, it's not just you and I miss the old days too. I have adjusted my use of Twitter and now find that the tweet chats and Facebook are where conversations still occur. I think we're seeing an inevitable side effect of growth. Perhaps as the evolution continues we'll see better management tools that allow us to go back to having real conversations.

Shannon Paul said...

Thanks, Mack -- I'm sorry I'm so late to this party. I've had similar observations. I'm not exactly sure what's happening, but it's been an interesting ride. In many ways it feels lonelier the more crowded it gets.

Recently I've tried to return to the good old days of commenting more on blogs and emailing/IMing friends more often. Even Facebook feels like broadcast territory sometimes.

I'm afraid once individuals establish a certain amount of "social capital" they feel less encumbered by the guiding principals that earned them that capital in the first place... ironic, eh?

Oh well, onward and upward. We're all still figuring things our as we, and the platforms we use to communicate, get more sophisticated and mainstream.

P.S. I'll reply to you any day : )

Mack Collier said...

Daria I tend to get cranky sometimes ;) You're right, how we use Twitter is definitely changing, and the platform still excels as a way to not only share information in real-time, but to judge and evaluate sentiment in real-time as well. That has enormous value for companies especially, and is one reason why Twitter won't be going away anytime soon.

Great thoughts and discussion guys!

Mack Collier said...

Thank you Shannon, that's Reason #124 why you are one of my favorite people ;) Every time I go to leave an 'update' tweet (here's what I am doing/thinking/going), there's always a voice in the back of my head that says 'Who gives a damn?'

I think from my POV, the 'updating' is what's getting out of hand. I love the conversations, and love the exchanging of information, but I still think sites like FourSquare (We had ones like BrightKite before that) are training us to think that everyone cares about our every movement.

And I don't think most people do.

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Jamie Favreau said...

I am one of the actual people who actually converse with people. When I was with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society i was always broadcasting and learned what did not work in business.

I do tend to RT a TON. Okay more than most and I don't know if you would consider it broadcasting. I am trying to cut that down but I have been a linking junkie since at least 2004.

I like talking to people. It kind of irks me when people DM you to thank you for the RT. I mean it is nice to be thanked but I don't see a point in a DM. Maybe that is just me.

Steve Hartley said...

I wonder how much of this is cyclical - based on time of day, and even day of the week. I've noticed that I have many more conversations after business hours than I do during business hours. I haven't really compared individual days, but I would suspect there would be some difference in the number and nature of tweets/conversations.

Like others have mentioned here, I find it difficult at times to find conversations to join, and oftentimes spend my Twitter time just browsing the posts.

Debra Ellis said...

Hi Mack,

Twitter usage may just be evolving. My public stream conversations are definitely down from the past, but I'm still actively connecting with tweeps. We tend to have our conversations using direct messages or email. They often start on Twitter, then are taken to a private area.

Part of this is because I don't want to be the only face in someone's stream. Part is because I don't want to clutter the stream with chit-chat. And, part is because 140 characters is rarely enough for a good conversation.

Just my 2 cents.

Have a great day!

Peter Korchnak said...

I had another thought on this phenomenon. Media is for broadcasting. Social media is for broadcasting yourself to your network, whatever and wherever it may be - Twitter, Foursquare, etc. It could be that people figured it out, or it could be it's the nature of the beast. Either way, finally the compound term is living up to the meaning of its parts.

hardiansyah said...

i agree with I've noticed that I'm attempting to have more conversations, ever since The Scobe said that Chris Brogan was doing it wrong.... lol.. have a nice day

Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. said...

What does this mean, Twitter has "become" a broadcast tool? It's the users fault. And it's the users fix.

Isn't this just one of those "it's not information overload, it's filter failure" problems anyway? The issue is not whether people broadcast too much, the issue is how to find the material (broadcasts, links, jokes, conversations) that you want, and do what you want with them.

A conversation as old as the Web itself. Has the Web jumped the shark?