A love-hate relationship with Twitter

So let’s talk about Twitter. I recently heard that it’s slowing down, but more and more people that I know are signing up for it. As part of my reporting class this semester, I was required to get an account, and I do use it, but I wouldn’t quite consider myself a fan.

My first impression was that Twitter was basically just status updates and didn’t really differentiate itself from Facebook except by the things it was lacking. On Facebook, you can post pictures and information and random boxes, but Twitter’s just a status. It took me a while to understand the more complex aspects of Twitter, and I do see now that things like at-replies and hash tags make it a little more elaborate, but still, if Facebook expanded its status feature, it could basically encompass Twitter. From a purely technological standpoint, Twitter doesn’t have anything Facebook lacks, but Facebook does have features beyond Twitter; with a little tweaking, Facebook could make Twitter redundant.

The thing that really makes Twitter different, though, is the usage. Journalists and news sources have latched onto Twitter as the next big way to communicate breaking news and connect with readers. And this has some value, but with two problems. First, it’s not a legitimate source of news. Yes, you can conglomerate different sources and find links to stories, but Twitter cannot replace your daily dose of print or broadcast or online news. Second, all these journalism outlets could use Facebook for the same purposes if they’d just realized a little earlier its potential in that area. It would be just as easy for The New York Times to make a Facebook profile (and maybe they have) so they can have friends/followers and post news and links. Really, what would be the difference?

But journalists don’t use Facebook, so Twitter has successfully filled that niche. The trouble is, Twitter isn’t just for journalists. Many people use Twitter just like MySpace and Facebook – as another narcissistic attention-grabber. I’ll fess up right away that I’m not entirely blameless, because I don’t tweet (don’t get me started on how awkward that word is) exclusively news, and those personal updates can be addictive, but people who just tweet about random things about themselves get on my nerves. “I want some coffee” “OMG what a cute kitty” “Ugh, finals suck” Those are the tweets that no one really wants, and the trouble is, with Twitter synced to phones and various applications, those are the people tweeting 30 times a day. Does anyone really want to know that much about your day? Maybe there is an outlet for that, but for now, it’s really junking up my Twitter feed.

So I see good sides and bad sides. Twitter offers a more connected version of status updates, but at it’s core just expands one aspect of Facebook. It’s a new outlet for news, but that could’ve been found through something else. Ultimately, I don’t think Twitter is really a new idea, it’s just a different way of using what we already have. So the question is how we are going to use it. Are the useless activity updates going to take over, or can we make it a credible network of information?  Some argue it has to be both informative and social and journalists need to blend the two. Finding that balance is a challenge yet to be figured out.

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