I remember it like it happened yesterday: I was sitting on the bow of a dinner yacht over a sunny lake in Minnesota when I got my first followers. It was July 2008 and my flip phone erupted with a beep and Twitter had notified me that my good friends @graphicnapkin and (his girlfriend) @mrlivedog were now following my tweet stream. They were, in effect, voluntarily listening to me and my thoughts. Maybe it was because they were tech-y friends who wanted to be nice, but it doesn’t matter, history is history. Let me back up and set the stage a bit, though:
By April 2008, I was really intrigued by the idea of status updates as a casual way of blogging. My weapon of choice at that time was MySpace, but it only kept your latest status. I’d just heard of this service called Twitter that forced you to make brief status updates and kept a log of them for full examination later, which seemed perfect for me. It wasn’t so much that I thought I was witty or that I really wanted to update everyone with what kind of sandwich I was ordering (although it did happen), but rather it was an intuitive and effortless way to document myself. I’ve maintained a journal since January of 1999 in a Word file, but most of the thoughts that I would’ve traditionally scribbled on there were being uploaded to the internet through MySpace instead. (As a result, I maintain an HTML file that features years’ worth of tweets that serves as its own pseudo-journal.) So, I signed up for Twitter and made two status updates and then stopped for months (minus a tweet to wish my sick girlfriend at the time to get better). The reason I stopped? The Twitter widget for MySpace only displayed your most recent tweet – much like MySpace did. You had to manually click an arrow to view older tweets, which defeated the whole point of using Twitter, so I gave up.
I’m not sure what changed my mind, but on my next corporate outing to Dallas in September, I decided to try that Twitter thing again. At around 2AM, not long before I was to head out to the airport, I set up my phone on Twitter and for that next week, I tweeted like a mofo. I had limited internet access and my only regular connection to the outside world was through text, so I tweeted, tweeted, tweeted! I had a few more followers at that point, but over the course of that week in humid Dallas, I had fallen in love.
On Twitter, unlike MySpace or Facebook, the sharing relationship usually isn’t mutual. I can subscribe to your tweets, but you don’t have to follow mine. I never really took to following too many people because a rapidly changing wall of people’s thoughts was virtually indistinguishable from noise- I only have so much bandwidth, people. My tweeting slowed, but I also got into Twitter clients that allowed me to manage my relationships better (Twirl on desktop) and when I got my first smartphone, I started attaching images to my tweets (Tweed on Pre). Because Twitter wasn’t a huge community yet, I got to meet some really cool people who would reply randomly to some of my tweets, including the super cool @madeofmonsters (who makes plush slugs and claymation animations in San Francisco) and a bunch of other random, awesome people. It was this year that I had started using Facebook, but rather than update both, I simply hooked my Twitter account to it, which fed it automatically. Quickly, I found myself interacting with two different populations and while it was bizarre at first, I came to like it.
And then, y’know, the world happened:
There were a few things that lead to my Twitter decline, but two ranked biggest: 1) I realized I was already recovering a lot of ground, topic-wise and 2) the other people out there stopped being so . . . human. With the explosion of the Twitter population in 2009 and 2010, the people who were now following me were no longer people at all, but rather an ever-growing pool of bots and business accounts. It’s not like I wasn’t guilty of it myself (@roadtoe3) because people were now seeing Twitter as a great marketing tool, but this – coupled by the estranged nature of most Twitter relationships – made me feel disconnected from the service. The random interactions stopped, the retweets stopped, the fun of Twitter stopped for me in 2010. I even tried experimenting by following celebrity accounts as surely they’d be up for some good? Nah, no joy to be found there. In reality, I think people found that Facebook was simply a much better platform to communicate with and to develop networks of friends. Twitter had been a bit of a stop-gap and with Facebook becoming more and more mobile through a series of apps released across virtually every mobile platform on the planet, you could get the full bang of that platform easily while Twitter looked more and more like a side feature.
It now seems to me that Twitter will become the amateur radio of this new social universe. It’s great for information at a glance (as Facebook posts tend to be bloated, like MySpace posts were), but at this point, I’m seriously considering making Facebook my main social broadcast platform. It’s awful that after so many years of evangelizing the platform to others (even getting our own Kelly to hop on), I’m ready to hop off myself.