It took me a while to warm up to the idea of microblogging, as popularized by Twitter. At first glance, I felt it encouraged the accumulation of mundane status updates, shared publicly, and communicated between accounts in an indirect, awkward way. Given that I spend a lot of time writing, I was practically insulted when I saw that they limited status updates to 140 characters. I didn’t understand how something of quality could be produced, given such limitations. I also feared that SMS abbreviations and slang would become prevalent, further taking away from the quality of such short messages.
So, when I eventually decided to create a Twitter account, it was merely to announce my new blog posts to a large community, to hopefully attract more visitors. I decided to auto-post my blog entries to Twitter via a WordPress plugin, including a special tag that would allow me to track the number of visitors I would receive. The experiment proved successful; announcing my new posts did result in a decent increase in visitors. As a result, I allowed the auto-posting to continue, and other than that, never really paid much attention to Twitter.
A few months later, something happened that caused me to reevaluate how I used Twitter. On one particular day, my WordPress database became corrupt, and after some work on my side, I managed to get it reinstalled and working… with the exception of one feature. My comments, managed by a WordPress plugin named IntenseDebate, were not appearing along with my blog posts. Since I placed a huge amount of importance in comments, I held back from posting, and instead waited to hear back from IntenseDebate’s support team.
Time passed, and though I contacted their support address twice, I still hadn’t heard back. I then noticed that they were happily instructing people to contact their support address from their Twitter account. Hoping to get their attention, I logged into Twitter, and directed a status update (known as a tweet) their way:
The idea of communicating with a company through Twitter had never occurred to me before. I liked the idea, given that the Twitter exists in such a public setting – I felt it would increase my chances of being noticed and helped. Unfortunately, despite further waiting on my part, I never heard back from them.
Eventually, I became quite annoyed, and decided to stop using IntenseDebate for comments, allowing me to return to blogging. As my first order of business, I decided to write a blog post about them, detailing my inability to get help from their support team, despite much effort. I titled the post “An Endless Wait for IntenseDebate“, and rather than having it be completely serious, I felt I should throw a comedic spin on the whole situation. I ended it with a poll, where I asked my readers when they thought IntenseDebate would get back to me, given everything I had experienced up until that point. The options in the poll were more towards the long-term, with the last option actually being a comical “They will never get back to you”.
About an hour after posting the article, I received an e-mail notification – one of the top guys at IntenseDebate had commented on my blog post, apologizing for the problems, offering his help. He even voted in the poll, saying I would hear back from IntenseDebate in less than a week. At first, I wasn’t sure how he found my post so quickly, but then it hit me: it was auto-posted to Twitter when I published it to my blog:
They were likely keeping an eye on all IntenseDebate related tweets, and spotted my latest, which was making them look bad. When I realized this, I immediately began to respect Twitter more; the public nature of tweeting benefited not only the companies, but also consumers. The situation sparked my curiosity about Twitter, leading me to start actively following other users. Mainly, these were comedians and celebrities that I knew of, as well as a few friends. I observed what kind of content they posted to Twitter, and kept the variety in mind. I discovered the concept of retweeting, which is pretty much repeating what another user has tweeted, while giving them credit for it. Considering my aversion to posting trivial information about my daily life, I quickly learned to retweet only the most unique updates I came across, those I deemed worth sharing. I discovered that 140 characters could very well be significant, with the right approach taken to Twitter. For example, I found writers that saw the character limit as a challenge. They manage to write interesting little scenarios within the confines of only 140 characters, not an easy feat.
Beyond content quality, I found great potential uses for Twitter’s location awareness. For example, whenever I heard about metro outages, I would tweet about it on my iPhone. That way, other people could search for tweets happening near them, and could potentially benefit from my warning. Soon enough, the actual transport company started tweeting about outages themselves, allowing me to cease this activity. It can be taken further than this, though, if you consider disaster situations, where it can be used as a means of warning others of danger, not just inconveniences.
Thanks to the experiences above, I am now an active Twitter user, no longer simply exploiting the community’s size. Though sometimes users opt to use Twitter as an online journal, there are others that find creative alternatives. If you previously decided to avoid Twitter, I hope my words have motivated you to reconsider, as there is much value in the service they offer.