About the Author

Chris Shiflett

Hi, I’m Chris: entrepreneur, community leader, husband, and father. I live and work in Boulder, CO.

I Almost Get Twitter

For the past few weeks, I've been trying Twitter. (If you use Twitter yourself, you can follow me.) I'm only following a few people at the moment, because I'm primarily using the mobile interface (particularly nice on the iPhone), and I don't want to get a bad impression just because I'm overwhelmed with text messages.

While using Twitter, I am often reminded of IRC. For example, while attending ZendCon, it was as if I had #phpc on my phone. (One obvious difference is that you only receive updates from those you follow, so sometimes you only hear one side of a conversation.) Nat Torkington seems to agree with the IRC analogy:

Twitter is low-obligation, low-expectation, low-bandwidth IRC. Community without commitment.

It's true that most Twitter updates aren't important, and this is a natural criticism, but from a social connectivity perspective, Twitter is good. At a conference, if I'm planning to listen to a particular talk or attend a particular social event, I can let others know, in case someone wants to find me. Rather than a declaration of self-importance, Twitter updates are passive, non-intrusive, and humble. It's similar to saying, "If anyone cares, I'll be in Terry Chay's talk at 10." Those who care can follow you. No one else is bothered.

Another thing I've noticed about Twitter is that it's similar to blogging, but the barrier is small enough that many people who rarely blog are very active on Twitter. I realize this is the most obvious and common comparison, but it's worth acknowledging the value in motivating people to share their thoughts frequently.

For example, I know Ed Finkler is frustrated by OWASP's poor communication regarding his project Inspekt, Tim O'Reilly is preparing for interviews with some prominent people like Meg Whitman, and Matt Biddulph is "calculating coincidensity." From these few updates, I might try to put Ed in touch with someone from OWASP who can address his concerns, I might send Tim some suggestions for things to ask Meg, and I might look up what coincidensity means. :-) Whether I do any of these things is irrelevant; what's interesting is that this is all information I would not otherwise have received. And, this is just from the past few hours from the few people I'm following.

I suspect some people are taking advantage of Twitter's simple mobile interface to broadcast messages to a small group, much like a mailing list that uses SMS instead of email. During Midnight Madness this year (we won!), one person volunteered to be responsible for logistics. He used a web application to broadcast text messages to our entire team to keep us updated, because the team gets pretty fragmented while solving puzzles and racing around the city. This worked pretty well, but it would have been nice to use Twitter, where each of us could update the entire team directly, instead of having to contact one particular person who then sends the update. (Twitter supports private updates.)

I still find it difficult to truly appreciate Twitter, because it's such a simple application. This is compounded by the fact that it's slow and breaks a lot. But, for whatever reason, a lot of people are using it, and it has a lot of interesting uses. I'm sure I'll continue to try it out, and if I ever truly get it, I'll blog about it again.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts. I'd love to hear what you think.

About this post

I Almost Get Twitter was posted on Sun, 14 Oct 2007. If you liked it, follow me on Twitter or share:


1.Chris Shiflett said:

This just popped up on my planet:


Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 03:16:40 GMT Link

2.Davey Shafik said:

I like twitter, because it's mostly *non* technical stuff from people I know. This lets me improve my relationships with people outside of our common PHP/webdev interests.

For example, I got to know that Aaron Wormus' daughter had to go to the ER, and when next we talk I asked about how she was doing.

It also lets me expand my circle of people by seeing who you're talking to and whether they have something interesting to say.

This for me, is the reason I like twitter.

FYI itweet.net is my iPhone twitter client of choice; mobile twitteriffic isn't up-to-speed yet.

- Davey

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 04:01:10 GMT Link

3.Pádraic Brady said:

Twitter is kind of weird - it's not blogging, or IRC, or IM and there's little formalism. I do almost get it by now though - once you have a simple highly accessible method of posting short updates that everyone else may follow (or not) you certainly get to know what more people are up to and you interact more frequently than usual. It's quite a bit like overhearing a general conversation and having a new hearing post on the grapevine - something the blogosphere doesn't quite manage since blogs have a higher update cost.

It's also fun at time ;)

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 09:30:18 GMT Link

4.Nate Klaiber said:

I am still trying to convince myself that Twitter is cool. Everyone uses it, but I still can't force myself to use it on a regular basis. I use it in spurts.

Sometimes those spurts come at bad times as I get errors every 2 seconds and the make the UI worse.

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 13:30:04 GMT Link

5.Andrei Zmievski said:


You can turn twitter notifications to your phone on and off, per person that you are following. Still, I keep them all off and just follow the updates online.

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 16:10:49 GMT Link

6.Alex Payne said:

Hi Chris, I'm one of the engineers at Twitter and a regular reader of your blog.

A lot of people seem to really "get" Twitter once they've found a desktop client that suits their reading and updating habits. For example, many Mac users enjoy Twitteriffic, and a growing number of power users are trying Ed Finkler's Spaz, which is built on Adobe's AIR platform and runs on OS X and Windows. You can find a comprehensive list of applications that talk to our API at the Twitter Fan Wiki.

We're aware of our intermittent slowness and availability, and we're working every day to make our system rock-solid. We have some changes coming in both application architecture and infrastructure that should really improve things over the next couple months.

Thanks for trying out Twitter!

Mon, 15 Oct 2007 at 18:13:55 GMT Link

7.Chris Shiflett said:

Hi Alex,

Thanks for writing. I'm glad to hear things are only going to get better, and I look forward to never seeing that error page again. :-)

Regarding clients, Twitter's mobile features combined with the iPhone's friendly interface for text messaging is a compelling combination. Seeing Terry Chay using Twitter on his iPhone is a big reason why I started using it.

Tue, 16 Oct 2007 at 02:24:37 GMT Link

8.Jon Tan said:

Good to hear from Alex how much work the guys are putting in. Immediacy is not so important to me, so the intermittent update lag to my phone in the UK is not an issue.

What I value above all else, are the glimpses into friend's lives that I would not ordinarily have. Twitter can paint great pictures in my head, and with a little selective friends management, delivers signal rather than noise almost all of the time.

It's coming to replace IM as the primary method of staying in touch over distance because of the passive, unobtrusive experience so the IRC analogy seems spot on, Chris.

Picture messaging a la Yappd would be welcome for my purposes then I wouldn't have to type at all, just point, click and push. :)

Tue, 16 Oct 2007 at 12:06:50 GMT Link

9.Jon Gibbins said:

Picture messaging would indeed be cool. Again, something to make the iPhone even sweeter. :)

I signed up to Twitter last year and soon left because I found it overwhelming. But with a minimalist following list and not being too worried about offending people by not following them, I'm back on Twitter and enjoying it.

Wed, 17 Oct 2007 at 09:00:10 GMT Link

10.Chris Shiflett said:

Nat has posted on this topic:


Wed, 24 Oct 2007 at 14:16:34 GMT Link

11.Joakim Nygard said:

The unobtrusiveness of Twitter is in my view the strongest sales point.

I've decided to experimentally use Twitter as a way of blogging short thoughts and integrate them into my blog @ http://jokke.dk. There will be times when I have something to post that isn't worth a full blog post and using Twitter updates for this fits my requirements.

Fri, 02 Nov 2007 at 10:15:45 GMT Link

12.Jonathan Stark said:

Hi guys -

I'm a big shiflett.org fan, but this is my first post. I apologize if it's too spam-y, but I built a twitter knock-off for the iPhone that is picture-centric, rather than text-centric. A couple of posts above sounded like they might be interested in that sort of thing.

Please stop by and let me know what you think. I myself am addicted to it, particularly when traveling and looking for a dead-simple way to share sights with folks back home. Here's the link:


P.S. Please let me know if I have made any security blunders ;)

Mon, 26 Nov 2007 at 06:09:09 GMT Link

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