What Is Twitter About in One Word?

    May 13, 2009
    Chris Crum

The "what is Twitter about?" article is not a new concept. It’s been discussed frequently pretty much since Twitter was launched. Yet people still have a hard time grasping the concept. In fact, Twitter has had a hard time with user retention most likely because so many people try it based on all of the hype, and then don’t return because they don’t "get it." What is Twitter about to you in one word? Tell us.

Social Network Reach

The truth is, it often takes a while using the service to "get it." The more you use it, the more you start to realize the benefits that are there. I (with a little help from Mike and Tiffany) asked a whole bunch of people what Twitter is "about" to them in one word. A handful of them responded, and here are some of the answers I got:

– Updates
– Egos
– Networking/Networks
– Relationships
– Represent
– Connection
– Possibilities
– Instant
– Marketing
– Speed
– Noise
– Inane
– Communication
– Contrived
– Aggrandizement
– Useful
– Spammy
– Conversation
– Open
– Freedom
– Useless
– Awareness
– Chat

Going into this thing, the word I was clinging to in my mind was microblogging. It has always been described with this word, but what does that mean? Small blogging. To me, Twitter is not a whole lot different than a collection of blogs, only all of the entries are really short (140 characters or less).

Is there a lot of noise? Sure. Could the same thing be said about the Blogosphere? Absolutely. You read blogs because they are written by people who talk about topics you are interested in reading about, or because you’re interested in what the blogger has to say because of who they are. The same could be said about Twitter. You follow those whose thoughts you are interested in hearing, whose links you are interested in sharing, whose company’s you are interested in staying informed about, etc.

Company Twitter accounts are no different than company blogs for all intents and purposes. The same goes for personal accounts and personal blogs. Do you care what I ate for breakfast? Probably not, but someone might. And I could’ve just as easily posted the same info on my personal blog. The difference is that on Twitter, I would’ve got right to the point – I didn’t have any breakfast this morning. A blog entry might have taken several paragraphs to explain the reasoning behind this. If these are the only things I blogged about, you’d probably stop reading my blog.

If these are the only things I tweeted about, you’d probably stop following me. If twitter accounts are like blogs, then Twitter is like its own Blogosphere (or microblogosphere) combined with a feed reader. You select the ones you want to follow, just as if you were selecting what blogs to subscribe to.

To me, this is what Twitter is about. That’s not all it’s about, but that’s how I get the most use out of it. That’s probably why I am not an incredibly frequent Twitterer per se. I read Twitter a lot more than I write on Twitter, but that’s still using it. Neville Hobson recently wrote about how Twitter is for listening. For some of us, that is the biggest part of it, but still for others, it’s speaking. We couldn’t listen if nobody was talking.

It is clear that Twitter is about a variety of different things to different people (and nothing to others). One person’s microblogging service is another person’s networking platform. There is certainly plenty of crossover as well. It doesn’t have to be about strictly one thing. It’s whatever you want it to be. And if you don’t want to use it, nobody’s putting a gun to your head (hopefully).

Thank you to all who participated in my little survey. I’m not sure if we’ve helped anyone “get” it or not, but either way it was interesting to see the different words people came up with. Somehow, I didn’t get many repeats. Twitter obviously fits different molds for different people. But we already knew that.

Update: Traffic was mentioned by at least one person in the comments of this article, but a number of people have said that they get no extra traffic from Twitter. Jeremy Schoemaker of the famous Shoemoney blog has posted an article about how Twitter is now his second largest source of traffic. He writes: 

"Just engaging in the twittosphere has been amazingly rewarding. But if you still “don’t get it” its cool. Less competition."

You can see Schoemaker’s analytics chart here.

Got a word for Twitter that’s not on the list? Share it with us.

…Try not to get too profane.