E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

August 20, 2012

Twitter Is Where Conversations Go To Die

IMG_1970Back in 2003, Bill French coined the now rather popular quote “eMail is where knowledge goes to die” that’s been making the rounds all along and which over 4 years ago I decided to adopt myself (Or kindly steal, errr, I mean, reuse, if you would want to call it that way), as part of that new mantra of mine on Living “A World Without eMail“. Well, nearly 10 years later, and only 6 after its birth, I think I’m now ready to declare something that I never thought I would be claiming, at least, not this soon, but I am afraid we have reached that point: Twitter is where conversations go to die. Sadly. 

It took email over 30 odd years to reach that status where more and more people started to question its long-standing status quo within the corporate world and it looks like Twitter has accelerated that same perception to just a few years within the Social Web, without even entering the corporate world altogether!, but, based on what I have been seeing over the last few months I’m starting to think that we maybe well be a bit too late into the game and we may not be able to get back out it. Twitter has now become, once again, another messaging board system, like a good bunch of them out there of the once so-called social networking sites. Not anymore. And here is why… 

I have been using Twitter for over 5 years now (I think I can track it back to around March 2007 when I created my main Twitter ID @elsua) and all in all I have been having one of those rather heated love and hate relationships with it, with its ups and downs, with its wonderful experiences, but also with its rather painful ones, with moments of pure brilliance and genius, combined with others that I am afraid I just can’t explain myself. The thing is that, almost right from the beginning, I knew that if I wanted to make Twitter work its magic for me to even become part of My Big Three social networking tools I needed to focus rather heavily on the connections, the relationships, the knowledge sharing activities, the collaborative interactions, the innovative and creative side of those wonderful conversations, the immersive, constant and rampant learning experience one kept engaging with time and time again spending, after all, countless hours just to keep up. WOW, boy, did we have a good blast?!? For sure! And a real one!

I knew that I was not going to focus much on the social networking tool per se, more than anything else, because the experience, all along and throughout those 5 years, has been quite a horrifying one on its own, an appalling attempt to keep grabbing your attention, as if you didn’t have anything else to do!, with a rather poor performance, lacking scalability big time, with silly limitations with its API, capped, or better said, rather crippled searching capabilities, incredibly dull, boring and unappealing front end Web site, with huge amounts of spam making it rather difficult to even enjoy the tool any more and perhaps too many pretensions to try to reach a certain status that has never managed to achieve: indispensable. Gran Canaria - Playa Las Canteras - Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

And this is the time we are now, where the user experience of the Web site, along with both its desktop client TweetDeck, or its iOS client(s), are still horrendous, and rather depressing, but where it looks like Twitter, the beast, the Kraken, has finally awoken from that ideal world we all thought we were living in, that one of being so powerful enough to change the world any which way, that it has, finally,  decided to kill the very main reason as to why it’s reached the success it has at the moment and over the course of the years: its entire unique ecosystem of developers AND end-users as ONE entity. How about that?

I am sure by now you may have been reading the extensive amount of buzz that a recent announcement by Twitter itself has generated out there, on Twitterland, as well as blog posts, articles, news sites, etc. etc. Twitter has decided to start killing itself slowly, but steadily, by dictating a good number of rules of how that ecosystem should behave in order to make full good use of the capabilities available. And failure to do so would mean a cease and desist notice. Yes, it’s going to be a rather slow and painful death, because if there is a well known universal law out there in the Social Web is that if you would want to become a success in an already rather crowded Social Web space you need to count on that magic combo of both end-users AND developers, because if you don’t have such balance you are going to struggle and quite a bit. And Twitter is just about to experience that soon enough for us all to be reminded that social technologies are just that, tools, enablers, and that, as such, they come and go. Well, Twitter has just started its exit interview and it’s going to be rather nasty, as Martin Varsavsky brilliantly highlighted on this one single tweet a couple of days back: 


But, regardless of the implications of Twitter’s attempt to control its own environment and ecosystem, so that those who invested in it can be proved there is an opportunity to make big money by bastardising your core beliefs and founding principles, and become, all of a sudden, another publishing / media company on the Web, not even a social networking tool anymore!, there is something more worrying, extremely worrying, actually, that’s going to help accelerate its own demise and big time. And that’s us. Yes, only us. No-one else. We, the end-users, were the ones who made Twitter a smash hit back in the day and we are the ones who are going to help bury it and attend its funeral in very short time. 

When was the last time that you had a bl**dy good conversation in Twitter? I mean, a real one. Yes, you know, a conversation of more than, say, 3 to 5 tweets on a single thread with one or more participants? When was the last time you were trying to catch up on a conversation from those wonderful people you decided to start following, because you felt they would manage to rock your world, if you would give them a chance (And, yes!, back in the day they surely did!)? When was the last time you were blown away by a short exchange of exhilarating blurbs of less than 140 characters that left you wowing like you have never seen before? I bet that’s been a while, perhaps far too long ago…

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's Surroundings in the SpringThe thing is that Twitter was never designed to keep up with conversations, it was never envisioned as an open, public social networking dialogue between passionate advocates for whatever the topic with an inner urge difficult to surpass to connect, collaborate, share your knowledge across or innovate on some really cool initiatives. Yet, we, end-users, with the superb help and support from one of the richest ecosystems of amazingly talented developers managed to tweak Twitter, to hack it around in ways never imagined possible, and build brilliance out of it. Remember @s (Mentions) when they weren’t Mentions, but Replies? Remember hash tags? Remember any of the hundreds, if not thousands of Twitter related Apps that allowed us to tap into those conversations with prime examples like Janetter or Tweetbot as of late? Ahhh, those were the times, indeed! 

And I missed them, and big time! Because over the course of the last few months I have started to notice something that I never thought I would find possible, at least, not this soon. Nobody reads Twitter anymore. Better said, let me rephrase that in another way: nobody reads your tweets anymore! There used to be a time when we did though. When we took care of perhaps not reading the entire timeline to dig out all of those wonderful golden gems that made it totally worth it hanging out in Twitter, but a large chunk of them to make sense of what was happening around us. The good old Ambient Intimacy (coined by Leisa Reichelt, a.k.a. @leisa, back in the day) or Declarative Living (coined by James Governor, a.k.a. @monkchips). Fast forward to 2012 and we are just now far too busy with ourselves with our key, important messages, that we would want to blast out to our networks thinking we know better than them what they need, even if we haven’t asked them first about it!, because we all feel conversations are just that: sharing your messages never mind everyone else’s. Why bother, right? I mean, you don’t have time for that. You need to move on! You are just far too busy with things, right? See? This is what traditional marketing has been doing all along, i.e. finding new channels to keep doing the same good? old stuff without much care in between, and disappointingly enough traditional marketing is winning, because we are being used ourselves (by ourselves!) to behave in exactly the same way!

Twitter is where conversations go to die“. Gosh, it really hurts when I write that down. It hurts even more when I come to think about it, specially, how we are the very same ones misusing, and abusing, even, this unique and wonderful opportunity to reach a global sense of connectedness. Of co-ownership. Of co-shared responsibility for one another, to help each other, to connect, collaborate and innovate together. And, instead, we have just made the switch and started blasting out our messages thinking, and believing!, that Twitter is just another messaging board system where attention is no longer required, because conversations are no longer taking place, so why bother, if I have shared the blurbs I wanted to share and can now move into the next thing. Ever look again into Trending Topics? When was the last time that you didn’t find anything related to watching something on TV, or a movie, or a sports event or a celebrity passing away (According to Twitter, at least!) or, you name it. You do know what I am getting at. In a way, Twitter has gone mainstream, but of the worst kind. Twitter has become industrialised.

Once again, another social networking site biting the dust and become absorbed by that frenzy of becoming the new media. And annoyingly enough we seem to be pretty ok with it, because we are not doing much to revert it, in fact, we keep feeding the beast, and more and more by the day with all of those tweets we all know no-one reads anymore, but, you know, you have to be out there, because if you are not on Twitter you just don’t exist. People need to see you are actively engaging? with those 50 to 60 to 70, or more!, tweets shared across on a daily basis; you need to show people how your whole social networking strategy (Gosh, what a bunch of ugly words!) is based solely on Twitter, because that’s where everyone is, so you need to make the most out of it. Period. You still think it’s the platform that allows you to get the biggest gains with the lowest friction possible. I mean, everyone can tweet 140 characters or less, right? Gran Canaria - Playa Las Canteras - Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Well, no! I refuse to make use of Twitter in that way! I want to fight back!! Please do allow me to fight it! I want the conversations back in Twitter. I miss them. And dearly! One of the reasons why over the course of the last 2 or 3 years I have performed monthly acts of Twitter hygiene by not following far too many folks, but enough to feel comfortable with, is because I read their tweets. Perhaps not 100% of them, depending on the day, and whether daily work, or business travelling, gets in the way, but I can certainly share with you all that I read the vast majority of them and every single chance I have to see the spark of a conversation I go for it! Why not? I want to bring back the user experience of what made Twitter a great social networking tool par to none. 

Yet, folks are just far too busy with their own broadcasting of short messages, their own messaging board system, confirming the conversation is now long dead. Twitter is the new e-Mail, apparently. We are now spending very little time on Twitter, just processing our to-dos, as fast as we can, so that we can then move on to the next thing, whatever that may well be. Well, no! While I can understand, and fully respect, how plenty of people would want to do that, let’s not forget that’s the same road that is going to take us where e-Mail is today. Twitter used to be fun. It used to be that really cool hangout place where we all tried to learn something new every day, where we tried to help each other become better at what we already do: plenty of pretty awesome and mind-blowings things!, where conversations sparked thanks to a golden nugget shared or a brilliant blog post or just something provocative enough to ensure a healthy reaction towards opening an interesting dialogue.

Never mind though how we have automated and industrialized our use of Twitter with silly famous quotes or funny tweets, smart phrases we just don’t know where they are coming from anymore, retweets from our followers telling us all how cool and how great and how knowledgeable we all are (I mean, remember? That’s why I am following you in the first place! No need for you to remind of that 3 to 5 times per day!), or how desperate we all keep begging and soliciting your friendly vote(s) for that upcoming panel for that über-cool conference event so you can hang out with the cool kids while you keep ignoring us after you made it.

Or perhaps how we are now scheduling our tweets in the future, just like we do with our emails and follow-ups, ensuring we are no longer there to respond back to a potential conversation in a timely manner. Or how you have also automated your blog posts and whatever other feeds into your Twitter stream so that folks would know where to head to read your writing of more than 140 characters. See? These are just some examples. Examples that, from my own experience, are killing the conversations in Twitter big time today, right now, right as we speak! I am sure there are plenty more out there and I would love to challenge you to share your favourite misuses of Twitter from your dear following networks in the comments, even just to see whether the conversations have died for you, too, or not… Perhaps I should put together another blog post including them all, along with a good number of other ones that I can think of at the moment by reading diving into my Twitter stream, once again.

Gran Canaria - MelonerasYes, I know that you may be thinking that there is an easy solution out there to fix this problem; i.e. unfollow everyone and start from scratch again. And perhaps that may well be the case, but I have been thinking about it for a while now and I don’t think it would solve the problem, because the people who I am really interested in following are not going to change their habits of how they use Twitter to kill the conversation, just because I have unfollowed them. They simply won’t know. I feel I need to find another way. Perhaps I may need some new friends, as a good friend of mine suggested after a rather interesting and fascinating conversation we had offline just recently on this very same topic, and maybe that’s the reason why I am loving Google Plus at the moment so much, mainly, because it’s providing me with an opportunity to remember, dearly, what Twitter used to be like not long: my favourite social networking tool, capable of allowing me to host some bl**dy good conversations on those topics I am truly passionate about, just like my network(s), without having to worry about that constant, and rampant self-promotion of one’s own marketing messages, so that your customers can keep coming back to buy your product: You!

But the other main reason why Google Plus has now moved into my Top #2 preferred social networking tool, at the moment, is because, apart from being able to enjoy the conversations again on topics that matter to us all on whatever the common interest (For instance, Social Business and the Social Enterprise, along with Knowledge Management, Online Communities, Learning and Collaboration, for yours truly) I get to experience special moments that surely remind you how mind-blowing, über-cool, inspirational, incredibly humbling, truthful and humane technology can be to make this a better world. Our shared, networked and interconnected world: 


When was the last time that Twitter made you feel exactly like you are feeling now, after having watched that short video clip with John Butterill? Just think of it, pause for a minute, when was it, exactly?  “Sharing a view… That’s a plus”.  Indeed, it surely is! But I miss Twitter. I miss the conversation. I miss you, my network(s). Here’s hoping you will stick around bringing it all back to what it used to be back in the good old days of what once made Twitter such a huge success: Us. The networks engaging with one another in more meaningful ways than whatever we thought we could, or would. Ever. 

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