I have been MIA this week, largely due to impending deadlines. At least one of them is still very much impending (and equally very much not complete), so I’ll make this quick and (hopefully) to the point: Twitter is fascinating and addictive and genuinely beneficial, but I see a battle brewing over what its proper use should be.
Quite a few people have begun to use it largely as a mobile locater. You send out a tweet when heading to whatever bar or concert or social event, and everyone who gets your updates on his or her phone knows that’s where you’re at. In a place like DC, where there are often multiple events on a given night and any number of different but still socially-linked groups of friends and acquaintances, this is incredibly useful.
The problem is, the ease of Twittering makes it possible to pester people with it as well. It’s tempting and easy to send out notices while waiting in line at Potbelly’s, while your brain churns on a tough article, while waiting between bands at the Black Cat. But people who sign up for your feed may only want to know your whereabouts, and don’t care at all to be bothered with your latest random downtime snark about the popped-polo frat boy who somehow wandered into a Yeasayer show.
Additionally, there’s a third style of usage that focuses heavily on either breaking news, often with links, or commenting on breaking news. Sometimes this comes from institutions like CNN, but there are individuals too, like Patrick Ruffini, who often do this throughout the day. And then there are the news-snarkers — the best, I think, being Slate’s John Dickerson, whose feed is easily my favorite just to read. Here’s a sample of what he’s put up in the last couple days:
Hillary Clinton is not ready for the coffee maker on day one.
Scarce goods: An economist who thinks the gas tax holiday is a good idea and future Obama book titles taken from Rev. Wright sermons.
Twitter is not going to be able to survive the summer without enacting a fuel charge.
As Twitter goes, this is high literature.
For those who don’t want to get this on their phones, that’s easy enough — don’t subscribe to phone updates. But what about the folks who use Twitter both as a locater and for random comment? How do we both get and broadcast the content we want without irritating people (or being irritated)? I suppose one could set up multiple accounts for different types of tweets, but that seems like a lot of work. I wonder if competing Twitter-like services will eventually find a solution to this.
UPDATE: I should note that, while I’m certain I’ve annoyed people with my Twits, I am, well, Twitterpated, and quite enjoy all of the updates I get. But my guess is that not everyone is, and the etiquette of the technology still needs some development.