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.