Twitter Thoughts, April 2014

I see a lot of people obsessing about Twitter these days, with particular emphasis on who one should follow, or not follow, and why. Occasionally these conversations touch on me, sometimes as an positive example, and sometimes not (such as the random person purporting to be a writer attempting to lecture me on not following everyone who follows me — he’s been blocked, because, really, fuck off, dude). So I thought it might be useful to offer up a few thoughts on how I use Twitter these days, and why.

Obvious note: This is what works for me, and may not work for you, etc, blah blah blah. As a general rule, please note that anyone who tells you that you are doing Twitter wrong is probably an asshole who you can ignore (exception: When you use Twitter specifically to troll and attack people. It is almost always you who are the asshole then, and you should probably fall down some stairs).

The salient rule for Twitter and any other social media is: Are you using it in a way that you enjoy and makes you happy? If the answer is “yes,” then keep doing it that way.

Now, then:

I use Twitter largely for three purposes, and they are, in roughly descending order of importance: to keep up with friends, to blather in short form about topics which interest and/or amuse me, and to inform both fans and overly-committed haters what I am up to, careerwise.

Although I use Twitter to keep up with friends, I am well aware that the vast majority of people who follow me are people who I don’t know, and who follow me because they are fans/interested in my work/decided I was amusing on Twitter — in other words, that for the majority of people who follow me, I am entertainment, to a greater or lesser degree (my friends may also be entertained by me, but that’s secondary).

This does have some bearing on my Twitter presence, and is also of value to me as someone who is in fact a professional entertainer of the writing sort. My twitter presence is largely a public-oriented performance; save when I am talking to a friend through a direct message, I am always aware there is an audience for my tweets, regardless of who I am speaking to and what I am saying. I suspect many of the people with whom I regularly chat on Twitter are also aware of this “public performance” aspect.

Does this make our Twitter chatting “inauthentic”? I don’t think so; it merely means we’re aware we’re in public and that when we’re having a conversation on Twitter, that people are listening in over our shoulders — and will feel free to comment or repeat what we’ve said to others.

As a result, when I am on Twitter, I do what I do here on the blog, which is to be “personable but not personal” — I have a voice that is familiar and friendly, and will share stuff I deem to be amusing or pertinent, but I will rarely if ever share anything from the sphere of topics I deem to be too personal. I don’t share everything, and have no interest in sharing everything — not everything needs to be shared to or known by people who I don’t, in fact, have any relationship other than that I exist as entertainment for them.

For all that I am aware of the public nature of my Twitter feed, and that for the large percentage of my followers I exist as entertainment, I don’t generally go out of my way to strategize the commercial application of my Twitter feed as a writer, i.e., how to convert every single follower into a paying customer of my books or whatever. The reasons for this are simple. One, that sort of thing bores the shit out of me. I have things I want to do with my life, but obsessing whether my Twitter feed is selling my work is not really one of them. Two, overthinking that sort of thing makes one’s Twitter feed boring, because you’re not doing it to enjoy it, you’re doing it to manipulate people. Three, I think a lot of the people who do spend too much of their time worrying about how their Twitter feed is working for them give off an unpleasant, metallic whiff of desperation, and why would I want to be or do that?

This is why the jerk who tried to upbraid me for not following everyone who follows me found his way into my block queue: What he was saying was YOU ARE NOT OPTIMIZING YOUR TWITTER FEED TO MAKE EVERYONE ON IT MARGINALLY FEEL MORE SPECIAL AND THUS MORE LIKELY TO BUY YOUR THINGS HOW DARE YOU SIR. And well, you know. That’s not how I use Twitter, nor is it how I want to use Twitter. My career has gotten along fine without having HOW WILL THIS MAKE YOU WANT TO BUY ALL MY THINGS as the guiding principle for every single human interaction I have, online or off. Seeing every other human being as a mark is no way to go through life. It’s tiring, it’s insulting, and it’s no fun on either side of that exchange.

In terms of who I follow on Twitter, it susses out something like this: People I know in the real world as friends or colleagues (I’d say about 90% of my follow list), friends of friends who I find to be particularly clever, who I (happily) then often later get to know in real life (about 8% or so), and the occasional person who I don’t know but of whom I am a fan of their work (the remainder).

Note that the vast majority of people I follow are people I actually know. That’s a personal choice; I’m interested in the goings-on of people who are friends. One reason for that is that my friends tend to be far-flung — or more accurately, as I live in rural Ohio, I am far flung from them. Another reason is that my friends are entertaining and I like playing with them on Twitter. A third reason is that while I have my own (small) list of people I follow because I am a fan, at the end of the day my primary interest is the people I know and care about because of my personal history with them.

(Now, as it happens, because of who I am and the circles in which I run, some of the people I am friends with happen to be notable to one degree or another, particularly in geek fields. However, I don’t follow them on Twitter because they are notable. I follow them because they are my friends. It’s a difference which may mean little, looking in from the outside, but means a fair bit from the inside.)

It’s theoretically possible for me to follow everyone who follows me, but then I would have a Twitter feed that that would be useless for what I want it to do, which is to keep me up to date with my friends and what they are doing. There are 319 people on my follow list now, and I have a hard time keeping up with all of them as it is. Moreover, and this sounds a little mean, but come on, we’re grownups here, just because someone is interested in following me on Twitter doesn’t mean I’ll be interested in following them. Because I usually don’t know them, nor am I a fan of them or their work. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, interesting people with cool lives, etc. But I don’t know them, see. And that matters to me for my follow list.

This doesn’t mean I don’t interact with the people who follow me, or who directly address me on Twitter. I do a lot of both as people either respond to what I’ve written or want to ask me something. It’s fun and part of Twitter’s conversational style. But I think that’s to the point, here — you don’t need to follow someone to talk to them on Twitter. You just ping a comment to their handle. Follow who you want to; don’t follow the people you don’t. Simple enough.

On the flip side of following, there are the people I block or mute (“mute” being a function where they are not barred from following you or even responding to you, but you don’t see what they’re saying). I block real people rarely (as opposed to spambots, which I block all the time), but I do block, because some people are real shitheads and I don’t mind letting them know I think so.

I mostly mute people, because it’s quieter (people don’t know that they’re being muted) and because it’s flexible — the Twitter client I use, Janetter, allows you to mute people for times ranging from 30 minutes to forever. That’s useful when I post something contentious and someone follows up with something I find dumb; I (usually) put them in the timeout box for a day rather than snark at them, and the next time they comment to me, I’ve forgotten they annoyed me, which benefits both of us. There are some people I’ve permanently muted; I don’t miss them.

Muting is useful not only for people who annoy me, but for people I genuinely like but who are on a momentary hobby horse I don’t want cluttering up my follow feed. When that happens I’ll mute them for an hour or three while they rant and then later they are back to their usual selves. Or when two friends are being contentious to each other, I’ll sometimes mute them both for an hour, because watching my friends argue all over my Twitter feed is awkward. Muting them while they argue is the Twitter equivalent of seeing friends argue at a party and deciding to go into the next room and chat with other people, who are currently not arguing.

(Do people who follow me mute me? Oh, probably. I can be annoying on Twitter from time to time.)

As much time as I spend on Twitter, there’s no way for me to respond to everything, either on my Twitter feed or when people tweet at me. I can’t imagine how my friends who have substantially more followers than I manage it.

Twitter is a fast-moving stream, basically. I enjoy it — a lot — but I also know there’s only so much I can do with it. So I do with it what I enjoy, and which makes me happy. You should do the same, however that is for you. Again: Simple enough.

61 thoughts on “Twitter Thoughts, April 2014

  1. as a newbie to social media (and to writing) this is kinda interesting and helpful, actually.

    I dunno – I just think Twitter is something that everyone will do differently, based on their desires and ideas, which is how it should be.

    it’s a bit weird that someone would care enough to *demand* someone else do these things any particular way.

  2. The guy who’s waling on you for NOT FOLLOWING EVERYONE BACK may also be pretty ignorant of all the details on How Twitter Works, as well. I ran across this error early on: “If you don’t follow me back, how will you know when I’m tweeting to you?”

    Well, if you tweet TO me: “Hi, @HubArchives1!” I’ll see you even if you’re not following me, because you included my username (and, yeah, as you point out, John, I haven’t blocked or muted you.) So, you want me to see something, I may see it because you MT’d (mentioned) me, even though I’m not following you.

    For example, you, John, are not following me (and I don’t have a booboo lip about that, I get it) but once or twice I have MT’d you about obtaining your books and you have kindly responded.

    I manage a Twitter profile for a client, who has more than 5,000 followers. No one (including me) EVER actually looks at that Home Feed stream, it’s just mush, sliding past at an unreadable rate. I look at the MTs and RTs. Which I assume is what you, and every other sensible Twitter user who isn’t playing some weird popularity-contest game with the application does.

    Maybe Dude will learn.

    Maybe not.

    Either way, it’s nice of you to share your thoughts.

  3. I handle Twitter by not using it at all.

    San Antonio Worldcon was the first time/place where anyone gave me a hard time about not being on Twitter. That annoyed me.

  4. I try to find good role models to emulate (e.g. Paul Di Filippo and Jim Kelly on panels) and as far as Twitter goes, I’ve tried to emulate your model, albeit on a smaller scale. I credit some of the success I’ve had on the example you set.

  5. I only keep my Twitter account because I use it for my login on io9 and Lifehacker. I haven’t checked it in months.

  6. A year ago my publisher highly encouraged me to get out there and socially-media myself into becoming some kind of digi-brand dude, and it just wasn’t fun. My follower count shrank daily to the point it was measured in fractions. Facebook made me feel like a stalker. Tumblr produced more seizures than a Japanese video game. If going “old school” means I’m gonna go broke, I’ll just have to LOL about it and go back to newspapers. There are still newspapers, right?

    -Captain Retro, defender of -30-

  7. I use Twitter, sort of. Mostly to follow people whose opinions I respect or whom I find entertaining. You’re included on both counts.

    I don’t use a Twitter client; just the site. Since I’d like the ability to mute users on occasion, I think I might like to start using a client. I was about to install Janetter, per my respect for your opinion, when I realized I don’t actually know your opinion or whether you would recommend it. I only know that you use it.

    So, good sir, would you be so kind as to let me know if you do recommend it?

    Thank you!

  8. I think a lot of people expect Twitter users to use lists to manage their follows, but really, that’s extra work. It’s much easier and more authentic to do things the way you do. Fake followers are pointless other than as a number.

  9. After following you on Twitter I got several “I write SF too you should follow me and buy my book” followers. I blocked them and locked down my account so people have to ask to follow. I don’t need a public facing Twitter, I follow friends and people I’m interested in.

  10. My Inner Narrator is now reading your posts in the voice of Mary Robinette Kowal. I DON’T KNOW WHO ANYONE IS ANYMORE.

  11. my blogging platform encourages us to use social media to promote our posts but they don’t pressure us nor require we use a particular one. Twitter is one of the SM I don’t fully comprehend as I think it is still evolving a bit.

    Apparently on Facebook you’ll get blocked or de-friend-ed for posting too much. On Twitter you wil get unfollowed for not posting enough. Would love someone to explain why that is.
    –@icarus2013

  12. Twitter is a good way for me to follow news and people I find interesting/entertaining for whatever reason. I rarely post anything myself, so there is no point to follow me back, unless you’re already a friend (and in that case, there are other more personal ways to contact me). Someone I follow as a fan following me back without knowing me would freak me out, actually.

  13. I follow a few more people than you do. It’s really hard to keep up with (and I mostly don’t). I use Twitter as an information source for entertainment, alternative, and local news, where it does a better job than mainstream media for a few things.

    Writer friends of mine tell me they like Twitter because, unlike Facebook, it’s unfiltered. You post something, and the people who want to follow you will see it. It’s very useful in that regard.

    I see some people following thousands of Twitter feeds. As you say, I don’t understand the point of that. The almost-400 that I follow generate on average just over a thousand tweets a day. Above a certain threshold, which even I am past, following back is just not a practical option. I routinely try to prune the list of people I follow; only problem is that the people I’m following are either mostly so interesting or relevant that I don’t want to drop them, or they hardly ever post so they don’t add clutter (and I’d still want to see the infrequent things they say). The thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t actually matter if people “follow” you, it only matters if they are actually reading what you say, which the follow-back people just can not. The idea that the number of followers is some kind of meaningful statistic is not very accurate, and insofar as it is meaningful it again is only as it arises from someone’s content and/or status. The must-follow-back people are what I call fake followers; they’re only interested in the numbers game, not the words anybody is saying.

    I have trouble keeping followers because I have multiple interests. The web developers’s eyes glaze over when I talk about media fandom. The media fans just do not care about our local politics. The people into local politcs have no interest in conrunning. I mean I could set up separate Twitter accounts for different interests, but that sounds like way too much effort. People who want to follow me can, those who don’t, don’t have to.

  14. So this might be too late for the “ask Scalzi” postings, I am still curious.

    On an average day (when not hyper-focused on writing or another event), how much time do you spend on twitter, fb, scalzi.com, fark, etc.

  15. I used Twitter when it first started (geek me) and immediately got bored. Just solipsistic me.

  16. Some people live very insecure cyber lives, John. I don’t envy your position in probably constantly having to deal with this. You used to have a set of rules somewhere that explained all this to your followers. I can’t seem to find it any more though.

  17. Hi, I enjoy your twitter presence John and I follow you because I learn a lot about the SciFi community in a peripheral way. (and I love your books) I use twitter primarily for research…following thought leaders in the different genres as I publish a weekly curated column of whats happening around publishing/writing for my fellow writers in New Zealand.
    I can’t follow everyone who follows me for the very reason you site…I would not keep up with it all. It is a research tool.
    I retweet often but am aware that Twitter is a public forum and when two people have a falling out in public on twitter I feel embarrassed for them…Thank you for telling me about muting…what a good idea.
    I engage rarely because I know that the thought leaders don’t have time to respond to people like me in far flung areas of the world…but I appreciate anyone who does take the time to flick me a thankyou. I don’t expect it…I don’t need the validation.
    While I am here posting for the first time a comment on your blog I would like to say how much I appreciated your rant on sexist gaming/CON/writers behaviour and I shared your blog posts on the subject widely here in NZ. (which I let you know on twitter…:)
    Thanks,

  18. That Janetter app with the timeout box sounds excellent. Will have to put that on my phone/ipad. I find twitter interesting at times but eventually the endless streaming quality of it gets to me and I put it down until the next time for a quick feed. I’m just not invested enough with the networks that propagate through it.

  19. I just don’t do Twitter. I use e-mail for work, texting with family and friends, and Facebook twice a week. Oh, and the occasional blog now and again. That’s about all the social media I can handle.

  20. I am reminded of the Olden Dayz when the occasional person got bent out of shape about people using usenet newsreaders that gave them the ability to filter out posts based on author or subject line. It’s no coincidence that people who thought killfiles were awful tended to end up in mine.

    People who think that everyone is somehow obligated to listen to them are often stupid in other ways.

  21. I still have trouble really understanding what Twitter is for. I find that I check it less and less frequently as time goes by. I rarely tweet. Since I’m not well known, I assume that people who want to hear from me are Facebook friends. It seems to me that the point of Twitter is largely for following people who don’t know, and aren’t expected to follow me. Even then, Facebook also has provisions that as well, so I’m not sure what I’m getting from Twitter.

    I guess Twitter is meant to be more ephemeral than Facebook but I often wonder if I should be wasting my time on something meeting that description.

    When I followed a local SF con, it followed me back so that I could direct message the con. To me, that’s what email is for. The last time I checked, I had a small flock of authors following me in hopes that I would follow them back or buy their books. I think I have as many bogus followers as actual followers.

  22. Thanks for that.

    This dates me past fossils, but if I read this right I assume Tweeting to be a near equivalent to old-style VIP cocktail parties; and modern blogging comes closer to Festschriften (essays “in honor of…”) – all as a means of communicating among peers.

    As to VIP cocktails, folks mix and match a bit randomly, even with ‘frenemies’; we hear this or that and maybe come out of it all with a vague but better overall vision of the contemporary field, which one might have missed otherwise. VIP cocktails tend to emphasize present tense or near future, and seen least painful when they pertain to professional interests. Tweeting?

    In Festscriften a writer may be derivative but still slaved to a professional vision – yet the essays must be more polished than rants at cocktail parties, if you follow, and hopefully in top form as to argument. And yes, possibly more long winded. Blogging?

    I hated cocktail parties…

  23. This may seem silly as I am not active on Twitter or most of the other social media, but what you posted here just seems to me to be practical. In my terms: I am a supervisor for a social services agency – I go to work and I have my “public” image. This is the image/face I show to my team and to our customers. So when you say that the image you project here on your blog, on Twitter or anywhere else is a different version of you, I (think I) get it. You’re doing what any professional would do (only, you do it with STYLE).

  24. As always, a good summary of what Twitter is good for.

    I mainly use it to keep track of what’s going on in the lives of people I know either personally or as part of my convention running activities. Seeing how various authors interact with each other occasionally gives me ideas that I can put to use in programming them at a convention. The points about using twitter as a promotional tool for an author/artist is very spot on. You can usually tell when someone’s focus is on selling their work instead of just interacting with fans/other authors.

    I do enjoy using it for real time commentary on things like award shows, although not usually when I’m there in person.

    I occasionally retweet stuff of interest or join in conversations, but most of my original posts don’t have much contents (pictures of my SciFi Jayhawk are the most common.). But I still seem to have drawn a lot of followers just because of who I follow and my convention running activities.

  25. Funny now Twitter still eludes any sort of obvious place in our lives. I blogged about this five years ago and here we are, still trying to figure it out. And judging by the rumors about removing @ mentions and #hashtags Twitter themselves are still trying to figure it out.

    Mark of success?

  26. I follow you because you’re entertaining, as a data point. Also Twitter does one thing awesomely: it can put us Little People in direct touch with the Famous People, without having to go through layers of intermediaries or secretaries or agents or snail mail or whatever. I have personally gotten a reply back from the co-president of the USA network, for example. And a reply from @scalzi as well!

    (PSA: If you want to send a comment to a TV show, don’t try to contact the stars of the show on twitter, instead look for the writers, producers, and showrunners. They generally have much fewer followers, and your comment won’t get lost in the noise.)

  27. I have three main uses for Twitter. First to keep in touch with family and friends. Secondly to follow people who point to interesting web content about a variety of topics. (Retweets of John’s Twitter feed led to me checking out Whatever and following the posts here.) Lastly, I have a second Twitter feed which is an ongoing piece of art that began in 2008.

  28. Note: the free version of Janetter has hit the twitter token limit and is unavailable for new users. Debating whether I’m sufficiently interested in trying it to pay for the “pro” version. I’m reasonably happy with hootsuite . . .

  29. I am in such a small minority in this part of the tech world that my opinion is probably pointless (but what the heck).

    Twitter has is place, but as used by most people seems a complete waste of everyone’s time (though it is their time to use). I don’t need to know when Wiil Wheaton is taking a piss or when Scalzi is taking a dump (literal or figurative).

    As it is popularly used, Twitter (to me) is one of the stupidest things ever. I wouldn’t mind seeing Facebook and Twitter die in each other’s arms. (This from a guy that owns a couple of dozen websites for various reasons, so we all make our own choices for our own reasons.) Nevertheless, mark me as a ‘No’ for anything Tweetery and please don’t get all atwitter about it. (I won’t see it amyway though, so do what you must.)

  30. Twatter Hayle. Someone said on Tumblr that they don’t have to Follow back someone, if they like it, they will follow it. That’s his account and he’ll do what he wants with it.

  31. I started using Twitter primarily for entertainment. Since then, and especially after the Boston Marathon bombing, half the time I use it to scan for information. Following NPR,the Boston Globe, along with local news outlets, helps me find news I might otherwise miss.

  32. Thank you, John, that was interesting. I LOVE Twitter, and I like that people use it differently…but not to the point where some of them now think there’s a right way! What utter tosh. Myself, I use it to stay in touch with my friends, most of whom live an ocean away. I like that I get to read what you, John, and other authors, actors, singers, comedians, etc. I find interesting/ entertaining have to say. (Twitter makes the working day so much more bearable.) Thing is, I’d NEVER expect you or anyone else who doesn’t know me to follow me back. Because, well, you don’t *know* me, and I’m very aware of (and okay with the fact that) I don’t actually have anything to say that might interest people who don’t know me. So it’s a source of constant bafflement (and amusement) to me when I see people ask for a follow from famous (for want of a better word) people. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen replies to, for example, Tom Hiddleston’s or Neil Gaiman’s tweets along the lines of “please, please follow me back you’d make my day!!1!” – I always sit on my hands so I don’t shout at them on the internet.

    And yeah, people berating you for “doing Twitter wrong”? Tossers.

  33. I don’t use Twitter because I don’t want to read that many short messages. I find it exhausting. Give me blog posts, which I read for the same reasons John writes on Twitter: either the writer is someone I know in the real world, or I find them informative or entertaining.

  34. This is exactly how I feel about Twitter. People follow me and I don’t follow back until we have a conversation and/or I get to know them. And I love Twitter. It’s my happy place. Facebook? Not so much.

  35. Twitter is especially good at creating 1,000 word blog posts to explain how to use, manage, and enjoy 140 character messages. I wonder if that’s why it’s quite popular with writers.

  36. I actively dislike it when someone famous I’ve followed just follows me, and everyone else, back, it’s a clear sign that they’re not interested and probably aren’t looking at their feed that often. It bemuses me completely that people think it’s the Right Thing to follow everyone back, I don’t follow back everyone that follows me and I’m a no one. If following HAD to be mutual it would be FB or even LJ, it’s not.

    If, on the other hand, someone I talk to on Twitter *then* follows me back, that’s a Good Thing, it means we’re mutually interesting.

    There are people who follow everyone back, have loads of followers, and still seem to get on well with Twitter, but I know I’d miss stuff from actual friends, the people I signed up to actually talk to, and that’s what it’s there for, for me. If you think it can only be used as a tool for self promotion, then that’s up to you, clearly it can be used as such, but you’re unlikely to be very interesting.

  37. I have found that I cannot follow more than 100 people and still enjoy twitter. There is just too much after that. But i’m also pretty much the exact opposite of John. I don’t know a single person that I follow. They are all local journalists, sports reporters, political and legal bloggers, and the occasional entertainment follow (i.e. Mr. Scalzi). Twitter is pretty much just how I get all my news and current events.

  38. dpmaine: Twitter is especially good at creating 1,000 word blog posts to explain how to use, manage, and enjoy 140 character messages.

    wow.

  39. I might be an old fuddy duddy (turn 40 this year), but I don’t get people’s fascination with social media. I don’t have a twitter account and I don’t even know what ‘hashtags’ are for or care. I don’t have a facebook account. I do like blogs because its a longer form of communication. I read blogs by people and look for things they are good at. I like author blogs when authors talking about their profession because I find when experts talk about their discipline its interesting. I don’t really pay attention to alot of things authors say on their blogs (which is why I don’t care that John and I have different political views).

    I get the impression that social media is a bit like crack. Its really addicting to people. Not sure that is healthy.

  40. Guess, I don’t think it has to be either/or. I’m not on Facebook and I don’t have a Twitter account. I don’t text either, so I guess I’m an old fuddy-duddy too, being considerably older than you. (I do know what a hashtag is, though I’m still not entirely certain how they work.) I haven’t the slightest desire to join Facebook. I’m considering Twitter, now that I know some people who use it. Lots of people do use Twitter just to keep up with friends and relatives–it’s a lot simpler and more focused than Facebook. But most of these folks don’t spend all day on Twitter, just as many people are on Facebook sporadically and update their pages seldom. Sometimes days go by between tweets or Facebook posts. That’s reassuring to me as I consider whether or not to get a Twitter account, because I don’t want to be overwhelmed by tweets. I also know a few people who spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook, and obviously some people love being active on Twitter. Like a lot of things offered by Internet technologies, Facebook and Twitter are what you make of them.

    I used to spend lots of time in several Usenet newsgroups (most, but not all, now defunct), and I enjoyed the social aspects. For someone who lives in a rural area and works from home, as well as someone who likes communicating in writing, I found that being active on Usenet helped me gain social confidence, and most of my real-life friends are people I originally met on Usenet or in e-mail groups or people I met through them. I know people who have broadened their real-life social lives and become involved in artistic and political activities by way of Facebook and others who just use Facebook to post baby pictures. They are what you make of them, if you choose to make anything of them at all I don’t think I will ever join Facebook.

  41. I have accounts across social media and each service has things it does better and worse. Twitter is great for bon mots, short form communication and sharing quick bits of information: and not just what kind of toast one had for breakfast. My regional commuter train line tweets updates whenever there are delays in the line, which come up as alerts on my phone. When I want a direct access to technical support for my PC, Alienware has a dedicated twitter feed to start the communication. The lunch truck that comes to the park once a week tweets to the park’s twitter group when they’ll be there and what the specials are today. I have plenty of quick discussions like a ping-pong match over twitter. It’s excellent for spreading fast bits of information, like links to articles or events: example: Paul and Storm tweeted about Homestar Runner’s web site being updated for the first time in 4 years. The 140 character limit forces people to editorialize and boil their communications down. Nuance is not its strongpoint or intent.

    Facebook is a step up: allowing long posts, media-enabled links and limited conversations. My wife’s 82 year-old, her 67 year-old mother, 44 year-old sister and our 16 year-old daughter all use it in different ways, but communicating across distances is one of them. Tumblr is good for sharing pictures in a different context than flickr and so on.

    Few of these social media outlets are used in just one way and there isn’t a ‘right’ way to use them. Twitter can be for Scalzi to make a hilarious exchange about Highlander; it can be used as a form of communication during a political revolution; it can be a way to communicate with old friends; it can be a way for companies to interface with their customers; it can be a way to organize social gatherings. None of these are right or wrong and none of these are any more or less essential than blogs, cell phone texts, instant messaging or a dozen other such technologies. People will figure out and use technology in emergent and valuable ways. Or choose not to use them, if they don’t find them useful.

    Such is the way of tech.

  42. Thanks for the tip on Twitter clients and the mute function, neither of which I knew existed. (Ah, I’m a bit of a Luddite. Don’t judge.)

    I use Twitter to follow friends, SF/F news and some authors, and a few folks I just find interesting. And I’ve unfollowed people before just because they got too Tweet-happy or were littering my feed with white angst or something, even if I enjoyed reading them otherwise, because I don’t want to miss other stuff. So this temp-mute thing should come in handy.

    BTW, present company excluded — John, your twitter performance art is always entertaining IMO.

  43. Twitter for me and my friends is a bit like an IRC chat that is easy for anybody to use, and far more elegant. IRC still had the “public” aspect in the sense that you weren’t assured of no strangers listening in or anything. And even then people would mention what they were up to, even if it was of no interest to anyone else (re: the old, tired complaint of “I don’t care what people are eating” – your understanding of the medium is shallow at best if that’s all you think it is).

    I find it entertaining some days, and tiring other days, especially when the people I’m following start in on a hobby horse du jour. I’ve unfollowed certain people whom I’d thought were going to be fun to read, only to find out they largely use Twitter for complaining and little else.

    Now my father knows I’m on Twitter though. I just don’t think I can handle it if he decides to follow me.

  44. Luna, doesn’t Twitter also have the public access aspect? If I know–or can figure out–someone’s Twitter handle, or whatever they’re called, I can find the person’s Twitter feed on the Web and read it without having to have an account. I have done so (sometimes by hopscotching from Scalzi’s tweets as found on Whatever) and expect this to be useful if I set up a Twitter account, because I have found two or three people I’ve lost touch with–old e-mail address no longer works, etc.

  45. BW – If you know their handle, sure, you can look them up. Whether or not you can read their feed will depend on their privacy settings. Some prefer to keep it visible only to people they themselves follow (and presumably, actually know).

  46. Thanks for the twitter insights, since I just dipped my digital toe in the water so to speak. I just think it’s rather neat to follow people, I’m not real snazzy in my own twitter stuff, so I don’t expect anyone to follow me. ^_^

  47. Absolutely dead on John, lmao and completely understand why you would block and/or mute people! I wanna know when I can block people in “life & work” who are deserving of such actions.

  48. I know that I can’t keep up with everyone I follow (my Twitter stream moves too fast; the best I can do is pull a few gems out of the flood every now and then). And I don’t have nearly as many followers as you do. I can’t imagine how you could possibly follow everyone who follows you. The guy who said you should is a bozo.

    That time-out mute is a really useful feature! I didn’t know about that. I mostly use Tweetdeck, and it has mute, but not that kind.

    Right now I’m wishing I could mute dpmaine in these comment threads, since he’s unfailingly nasty and hostile and never, ever contributes anything interesting or useful to the conversation.

  49. I don’t use Twitter because I find it too brief, and that brevity seems to spawn acrimony with remarkable speed. Facebook allows longer and more reflective posts. However, I do have a lot of writer friends who swear by Twitter, in part, for retweeting links, and I think it’s very useful for imparting stuff like travel info.

  50. From Alex above: “The almost-400 that I follow generate on average just over a thousand tweets a day.”

    This causes me a sadness I can’t explain. I don’t tweet, nor follow anyone, I’ve only studied this whole Twit thing from a distance.

    Similar to what I feel when I see people texting in their cars. There seems to be an undercurrent of isolation so pervasive that many people are compelled to stay in constant touch by electronic means. Which is a stripped down, attenuated, bereft of human interaction method of not being alone.

    Which makes me wonder, is this what they are really after? It’s life written as Cliff Notes. While oft misunderstood as pure text invites, being devoid of the spectrum of non verbal communication in a face to face encounter which I’ve come to believe delivers perhaps seventy percent of the meaning.

    Are people becoming more ‘clingy’, but starting to shun the interaction a personal encounter imposes?

    Forgive me, I’ve only recently started to actually observe human behavior after being on the planet more than half a century. Some would say “It’s time”, others would say, “Shame on you.”

    They would both be right.

  51. I enjoy your twitter feed John. I think it has the perfect amount of useful interesting information vs. (mostly) humorous fluff. I have replied to your posts several times, and occasionally you have even replied back; once even when I criticized “Human Division.” I like that interaction tremendously, but I never feel angry if you don’t respond. I don’t expect you to. You don’t know me from a hole in the wall, you’re a busy guy, etc, etc.

    I would NEVER expect you to follow me back. Why would you? I follow you because I’ve already bought your stuff and I’m interested in what you have to say. Anyone that does follow back all their followers is close to a spammer in my mind.

    Thanks,
    -Matt

  52. Lowell: “Are people becoming more ‘clingy’, but starting to shun the interaction a personal encounter imposes?

    I think you are reading WAY too much into people’s enjoyment of twitter and texting and loading it with emotional and contextual meaning it simply doesn’t have. When my wife calls me to ask if I can stop on the way home and get milk, that’s not a desperate attempt to grasp human contact while staying bereft of uncomfortable encounters in a barren wasteland of loneliness. That doesn’t change when its through a text message.

    Most of the people I contact via twitter are either geographically distant or people I have never actually met. Hell, the guy who I know sit next to on the train does so because we connected via our Nintendo 3DS’es using Streetpass, where my Mii listed my twitter account and we got to talking.

    Yesterday I used twitter to have an funny argument with a friend who lives 500 miles away about what movie we saw at my 13th birthday party. (spoiler alert: I won, but we both lost because we had to remember two terrible movies).

    I’m sure there may be some lonely people out there who use twitter as you suggest, but I would suggest they are in the minority. Twitter is a tool and like any good tool, it has multiple uses. Whether it be a notification of Patrick Stewart having a charity auction, John Scalzi making a joke, SEPTA broadcasting transit delays or my friend talking about annoying people at the library: it’s all just another way of communicating.

  53. The idea that you’d follow everyone who follows you on Twitter is ridiculous. I follow you on Twitter because you amuse me, but there’s no reason to think you’d want to read about my cats or my adventures as a grad student. And then multiply that by another few thousand strangers? Absurd. While we’re at it maybe I can send you a draft manuscript to read, since I read your books.

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