The reluctant Twitterer's dilemma.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
April 10 2009 1:00 PM

Do I Really Have To Join Twitter?

What to do if you're just not that into microblogging but don't want to be left behind.

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Microblogging, like regular blogging, rewards persistence. Twitter is littered with half-hearted tweets—people who joined the site with dreams of sending out pithy little posts regularly and then drifted away after realizing that keeping up a microblog can be an unrewarding chore. The best Twitterers post a few times a day, but with care—like the best bloggers, they aim for comedy, insight, and drama and to share cool links. They also don't overload their followers. I've dropped people for tweeting too often; more than three times an hour seems excessive.

Does all this sound daunting? It should. Lost in the hype surrounding Twitter is any suggestion that tweeting is not for everyone. Sure, it's easy to join Twitter, but Twittering isn't easy. And it's not instantly rewarding, either. If you're a politician, a celebrity, a marketer, or a journalist, you've likely got very specific goals for Twitter—to sell yourself or a product. Twitter can pay off grandly for these folks; have you heard about the Korean taco truck in Los Angeles that's built a cult following by tweeting its roving location to customers? Last month, I pointed out that by connecting companies with their biggest fans, Twitter has also helped a few people find jobs in this tough economy. So if you're out of work and have nothing else better to do, Twitter might be for you.

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But what if you're not selling tacos and you don't care to establish a brand for yourself online? What if you just work in accounting—what can Twitter do for you? This is a harder nut to crack. Some people are fans of the medium itself; they join Twitter not to tweet but to subscribe to streams from Shaquille O'Neal, John Mayer, John Dickerson, and other world-class Twitterers.

But if you're not into that, Twitter doesn't seem to offer much that you can't already get elsewhere—for instance, at Facebook. A few months ago, I urged readers to join the social network because you could no longer mistake it for a passing craze; Facebook, I argued, is now a permanent part of the culture, as critical to modern society as e-mail and the cell phone. Since then, to much annoyance, Facebook has redesigned its site to be more Twitter-like. These changes diminish Twitter's attractiveness: Are you just looking for a way to occasionally send a mass message to your friends? Facebook, where you've already established a circle of followers, can be a much faster way of doing so—especially now that it looks so much like Twitter.

Microblogging may not be a fad; there are probably enough people who want to broadcast their thoughts to strangers, and certainly enough people who want to read what these folks have to say, to keep it growing.

But that doesn't mean everyone will be doing it, either. Talking to strangers is strange. It takes a certain type of person to do it well—or even to want to do it.If you're struck with horror at the prospect of telling the world what you ate for dinner, where you're going on vacation, or what you read in the paper this morning—well, that's OK. You're just not that into Twitter, and you're not alone.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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