Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Twitter: social networking or broadcast medium

Shel Holtz wrote about how a newspaper is using Twitter and it got me thinking about Twitter as a social medium vs. Twitter as a broadcast medium:

A local newspaper has integrated Twitter into its news offerings, according to an article today in Journalism.co.uk. The Nashua Telegraph (New Hampshire, USA) has created a section of its website for breaking news; the news items are fed directly to a Telegraph Twitter stream with links (TinyURLs, of course) to a mobile version of the newspaper’s website.

A current look at the newspaper’s tweets shows weather information (including school and airport information), along with news about a local murder trial and other information that could be important to local residents...

I was an initial Twitter skeptic who dived into it to see what all the fuss was about. I'v found that it's a fun social application. For me, it's a bit like having an ongoing IM conversation with a bunch of people.

But there's always been an element to it that I'd call "broadcast." There are plenty of organizations using Twitter: media outfits like newspapers and television programs, as well as associations, non-profits, and presidential candidates. All of that leaves me cold.

First of all, it's not social. It nice that I can follow Barack Obama on Twitter but you know what? Barack's not following me. Well, maybe, but I doubt anyone is reading it (nor is there any compelling reason to). This is a use of Twitter to broadcast messages to an audience, not interact with them.

That's not necessarily bad, but it makes Twitter less a cutting-edge social networking tool than a new implementation of broadcast SMS or email.

And it adds a spammy aspect to it. It's one thing to get an email telling me that some fellow Houston blogger is now following me; hey, somebody new I might have things in common with! When I got an email that the Today Show was following me, however, I didn't see it as a new networking opportunity, but rather a way for the Today Show to spam me via Twitter to get me to look at their content.

Second, I wonder if this kind of Twitter use fails a basic test of any medium: is the timeliness, format, and intrusiveness of the messages matched with their utility to the user?

New technologies tend to find their place. Email is a great way to send detailed information that doesn't require a response immediately; if you want immediate feedback, pick up the phone. Or send an IM. Twitter is an ongoing conversation in which you can reply to something hours later.

Like Shel I give the Nashua Telegraph credit for experimenting with it; that's smart. As a user I can't imagine following my local paper, the Houston Chronicle, on Twitter. There's nothing there that I can't get more conveniently via RSS or on their web site, when I feel like looking at it.

I'm not knocking anybody here, but just asking the question: is this a good match between content and medium? I'm skeptical. It will be interesting to see how it works out for newspapers - and everybody else.

1 comment:

dkiesow said...

John - you are correct that Twitter is a broadcast medium IF the relationship is one-sided.

The Telegraph does 'follow' most of those following us - especially if they are local. While most of the flow is one-way, we also scan the social graph this creates as well as respond to queries.

By doing this we have found story ideas and fixed errors based on feedback.

So yeah if newspapers treat social media as just another broadcast tool - then Twitter/Facebook/MySpace are nothing more than glorified RSS feeds.

But, if we actually get newspapers to 'speak digital' and become part of the online community via these tools - then there is some hope.