Is Twitter Setup For Easy Stalking?

    June 10, 2009

No, it’s not just the bird. And, no it’s not my opinion. One of my teenagers told me that Twitter is creepy. And I saw a recent post by Paul Dunay where his fourteen-year-old’s friends "wanted nothing to do with [Twitter]." Given the meteoric rise of Twitter, how can it be that at least some members of the digital generation have such negative reactions? These very same kids are active in Facebook beyond all bounds of time management, so they are not cyber-shy. I think it has to do with Twitter’s user experience.

I had lunch with Paul today and we briefly talked about that common experience that our teens have with Twitter. I think one of the clues to the perception lies in another comment my daughter made. Upon walking into my office, she saw Twitter up on the screen and said, "Oh yeah, that’s your stalker site."

Stalker, eh? There’s a brand image that any company would love to have, huh? Well, maybe not. And I have to wonder whether some of that negative perception is driven by the simple choice of words. In Twitter, you "follow" someone, which certainly connotes more of a stalker connection than Facebook’s "friend."

But perhaps there’s more here. On Facebook, friends request to be connected and you must approve, while on Twitter, they follow freely and you must block them to prevent it. You can lock your Twitter stream to force approvals of anyone with a follow request, but it’s not the default, so few do. The default is "opt out" rather than "opt in," a subtle difference, perhaps, but it might lead to an out-of-control feeling. About such things do perceptions revolve, in case you haven’t paid due deference to usability gurus. For some reason, Facebook seems comfortable while Twitter seems creepy.

I wonder if the new digital generation can perceive creepiness in a Web site as easily as us oldsters can see it in a person’s face. Perhaps they’ve become so attuned to the digital world that they perceive things that we miss. Well, a sample size of a few teens does not give us enough data to reach a conclusion, but I’ll be interested to see the next study that shows Twitter users by age.