Today is the first anniversary of us joining Twitter – cards and presents to the usual address. Adrian Shaughnessy has written a good article in Design Week about the benefits of tweeting (you have to be a subscriber to read it). Here's my quick run-down of its pros and cons.
It's a great way to find out things you wouldn't otherwise find out about, quickly
It stands to reason – you follow interesting people; they mention it when they see something interesting. It's a very effective way of editing the web, introducing a level of variety and unpredictability that you don't get with RSS readers.
It fosters a sense of community
As Adrian Shaughnessy and others have pointed out, things like Twitter are great at creating a sense of shared endeavour in a design industry that is otherwise extremely fragmented.
It's good fun and makes you laugh
This obviously depends on the quality of people you follow, but is generally true – like being in an office full of entertaining banter, which you can turn off whenever you like.
It's the right level of distraction
Some people criticise Twitter for being too distracting during a working day. I find it's about right – a nice level of background noise while you're working on something else. A good rule of thumb is not to follow any more than about 150 people. (Maybe it should be 140 characters.) We also stick to people who are vaguely within our field, rather than following celebrities or indiscriminately following anyone who follows us. (Other people use lists and applications such as Tweetdeck to manage larger numbers of followers, but I find I can't fit all that information in my head at once.)
It's good for self-promotion
If you have a blog or something to plug, or an idea you want to share and get people involved in, it's the best way to spread the word.
It's good for self-promotion
There's no getting round the fact that a lot of tweeting is about boosting the self-esteem of the tweeter, whether you're clearing your throat and pointing towards your spectacular number of followers, casually retweeting someone who just said you're great, or linking to a fantastic blog post you just happen to have written. This is OK though. We all do it. People know when you're overdoing it.
It's called Twitter
Tweeting on twitter with your tweeps will never be a manly activity.
It may not work for everyone
Like all media, it may suit some personality types more than others. Maybe you need to be reasonably confident with words, as it can be tricky to say what you want to say in such a short space. I like the fact that it's a conversation that no one dominates (again this depends who you follow). But a lot of people join Twitter, try it for a while, then tail off – there must be good reasons for this.
It's surrounded by annoying media coverage
The media is still in that mindset where any story becomes fifty times more newsworthy if you can get the word 'twitter' into it, usually in an entirely exaggerated or misleading way. Either they're mocking it for being all about telling people what you've had for lunch (a bit like saying the phone is all about telling people what you've had for tea), or they're overhyping its ability to single-handedly change the world (Iranian uprisings, Trafigura etc) – it does undoubtedly have important social uses, but so do the mobile phone and email and lots of other things.
The continuing search to 'monetise' Twitter may lead to more cons, but hopefully not. (We would probably pay a small annual subscription based on number of tweets, if the first 500 or so were free.)
That's it for my Twitter reflections. “Ha ha! Try saying all that in 140 characters, if Twitter is so damn great!” an imaginary cynic cries. This is another misconception about Twitter – you don't have to say everything in 140 characters. You can say it here, then link to it. Which is what I'm about to do.