Give Twitter a chance

It seems like every week we’re reminded of Twitter’s ever-growing relevance to the way we communicate, and usually in the same breath as how distracted and numb it’s making its users.

From the 2008 Mumbai attacks to the first photo of US Airways Flight 1549’s landing in the Hudson River last year, Twitter has become a big part of the news media.

But most of the debate over Twitter’s relevance relates to the case of the average user. It’s also where Twitter’s use varies the most. While most blogs and news outlets with a Twitter account primarily provide links to their stories and articles, the Average Joe posts anything from links, pictures and music to jokes, sports commentary and what they’re having for lunch.

Somewhere in the middle lies the Twitter addict, the centre of the debate: posts dozens, maybe hundreds, of tweets a day. Re-tweets, posting popular links, following thousands of people. Creates a high signal-to-noise ratio.

How important is it that you see the newest LOLcat? Or a link to a news story that’s been re-tweeted thousands of times?

According to Nielsen Online, Twitter has a user retention rate of 40 per cent, meaning that around 60 per cent of the people who sign up don’t see the merit of these user patterns, either.

This isn’t to say there isn’t meaning to be found on Twitter. Some very smart people have accounts that enlighten thousands of people per day. They write satire, opinions and short prose worth reading. The problem is there’s no way to easily cut through all the nonsense to get to these valuable sites.

The common thread between these users is originality. The users who gain popularity on their own merit do so with original content, not the constant regurgitation of the Twitter zeitgeist.

Twitter has a “Suggested Users” list under the “Find People” link on their site. It consists mostly of people that are famous for something else, like politicians, actors, athletes and reporters. But the normal people making Twitter work for them as way to get their words out are nowhere to be found. New users have no sense of what’s really happening on the site.

Where Google is efficient at cutting through the internet as a whole to get what users want, Twitter makes it much more difficult to find what you’re looking for.

For example, the hashtag #Haiti returns hundreds of tweets a minute, making for hundreds of thousands a day since the recent earthquake. But there’s no guarantee you’d be able to drill down through the masses to find tweets about a certain aspect of the tragedy. My effort to find tweets from Haitians themselves was a lost cause.

Twitter is still in its infancy. Its vocabulary and etiquette are only beginning to be established. Give it a chance and the riff-raff will fall through the cracks. Like every tool for communication since the paper and pencil, Twitter will eventually show its worth through creativity.

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