5 December 2010

Twitter Chatter (and the Thrills of Unfollowing)

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Former AOL Chatroom User

The inspiration for the Angry Birds video game?

Dan Lovell is a writer, web developer, musician, and baseball expert – a regular 21st century renaissance man. So even though I think baseball is less entertaining than watching continental drift, I follow Dan on Twitter, where he often makes strong, pertinent points – you’ll never find him posting banalities, such as what he had for breakfast. Plus, he’s definitely not afraid of poking the hornet’s nest…

Recently, Dan went on a rant against using Twitter as a chat room:

First, if I follow you, it’s because I’m interested in what you have to say. I expect your posts will be directed to your audience — including me. When you’re in a Twitter chat, it’s as though I’m standing attentively next to you while you talk to someone else. If 30 of your followers are in your chat and you have 2,000 followers, you are not holding up your end of the trust relationship you have with 1,970 followers.

Second, if I happen to be following several people involved in a chat, it’s like a herd of buffalo just stormed through my living room. Your decision assumes that the space belongs to you for that time period, despite what anyone else thinks.

And I said, “amen,” ’cause chats on Twitter are equal to someone texting on their phone at a dinner table. It’s yet another manifestation of antisocial media.

Now, I understand why people use Twitter as a chat space – they dropped their AOL accounts years ago.

And they thought it would last forever.

Back in the Web’s Paleolithic period (circa 1995 B.Z. – before Zuckerberg), tens of millions of Americans succumbed to the onslaught of computer disks stuffing their mailboxes and agreed to pay $20/month for something called “America Online.” (Imagine that – once upon a time, people actually paid for things they liked to use on the Internet!)

AOL offered social media back when many of today’s so-called “social media gurus” were still wearing Underoos. (Based on the level of their critical analysis, I suspect that some still are.) One of AOL’s features was the chatroom, where people could gather and discuss issues without bothering anyone else.

But then the Web caught up to AOL, and thanks to Webonomics, the Web’s offerings were free, and today AOL is a running joke a shell of what it used to be. While the free Web has opened up more discussions, it means that the AOL chatrooms of yore are now gone. So where do people go now to have group discussions?

Some set up Facebook groups. Others wikis. And yet others who can’t be bothered to “get a room” (in Dan’s words) are chatting on Twitter. This means that everyone following those people on Twitter get to enjoy streams of random posts out of context. Annoying? Absolutely. The most annoying activity on Twitter? Maybe not.

In the Great List of Annoying Twitter Activities, chatting is pretty high, but it ranks below the following:

1. Bots
2. Spam – particularly any related to multilevel marketing
3. Foursquare
4. “Following” more than 10,000 people. Indeed, following even more than a few thousand people is pretty phony. Anyone who does it is being disingenuous to the people they’re ostensibly “following.”
5. Foursquare
6. Posting fake “truisms” like “Authenticity is crucial to producing higher quality, more valuable content. Consumers can spot the garbage!” (actual quote) whatever the hell that means during the reign of Lady Gaga. The B.S. level on Twitter makes the U.S. Congress look rational.
7. Foursquare
8. Posting what you’re eating or just ate, or how your workout went, or your score in a video game, or other personal trivia that even your mother would find boring.
9. Foursquare

So engaging in chats, which is discourteous, makes the Top 10, but just barely. After all, lack of courtesy is part of American culture (been to a movie theater lately?), so it’s no surprise that being inconsiderate of others is part of any American communications medium.

Fortunately, Twitter invented the “unfollow” button, which I use liberally.

If someone is interesting, but is a bore/boar/boor on Twitter, I unfollow them on Twitter, yet continue to read their blogs or watch their videos or wait for the mainstream media to talk about them. That includes most professional athletes: even though I’m a sports fanatic, most athletes are best seen and not heard.

So, Dan, I strongly recommend that “unfollow” button. Try it – it really works! There’s a certain visceral satisfaction to using it, and it makes Twitter sooooo much better.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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