In 2013, I had a fruitless meeting with a talent agent, who told me to "get on Twitter, follow some showbiz people you admire, tweet at them, and your career will go places." Lame advice, but I still made a go of it. A year and a half later, with over 1,000 tweets and around 400 followers, I have not warmed to Twitter, and Twitter has not warmed to me. Perhaps I'm simply too old, or not doing it right. In any case, apart from the hacking and the trolls that you've heard about, here are nine other conclusions I've reached.
- It's really just for celebrities and their fans. We've all known this for years. But I had also hoped that there was room for us in the "Internet middle class" – not celebrities, not fans – to have useful conversations too. Although I have made a couple of new friends (or at least supporters), I otherwise feel shut out, like my voice counts less because I'm not famous. It isn't a good feeling.
- A lot of nonverbal interactions are actually automated. Early on, I was delighted to get so many follows from complete strangers. ("They like me!") Then insulted to see them unfollow me two days later if I didn't follow them back. ("They were just using me!") I have since learned that people use services like TweetAdder to do all this automatically – as a ploy to increase their own audiences. To this same end, some accounts will automatically "favorite" your tweet if you include a certain buzzword. Even for accounts manned by real people, bots are doing a lot of the work.
- Many Twitter users with tens of thousands of followers have no commensurate renown in the real world. Twitter fame is often bogus. How does an otherwise obscure writer, singer, or "guru" amass over 50,000 or even 1 million followers? Maybe it's their marvelous tweets. Or maybe it's thanks to those automated processes, and even shadier schemes like paying freelancers on Fiverr to pad accounts with loads of phony followers.
- It's for commenting on current affairs, not for discussing personal experiences or ideas (unless you're famous). I don't want to tweet about #WhateverCelebrityMadeTheNewsToday. I want to share something funny I just saw, or a thought I just had. But that's what people do on Facebook, not on Twitter. Since I'm not active on Facebook anymore, I have only myself to blame here.
- You can post something clever or important on Twitter and there's a good chance that nobody will ever read it. Again, advantage Facebook, where you can at least count on a handful of friends to see your updates. But the signal to noise ratio on Twitter is deafening, especially as many accounts employ yet more automated services to flood your feed with tweets 24/7.
- Its search engine is terrible. I've encountered lots of problems looking up well-known users, or even people I actually follow. Sometimes it will locate someone by their screen name (if it differs from their Twitter handle), sometimes it won't. For this and many other reasons, it's a mess.
- Its interface is terrible in general. Everything about it is clunky and unintuitive.
- It's not likely to survive – at least in its current form. True, people have been saying this about Facebook for years ("Just like Friendster and MySpace, something new will replace it!"), and it's still here. But that's because Facebook offers the full social networking experience, whereas its predecessors restricted many interactions and were thus unsatisfying. Twitter's own restrictions make it similarly vulnerable: who really prefers a 140-character limit over something more flexible? And the statistics back me up: for this and other reasons mentioned above, Twitter usage is in decline. I'm sure it will still be around in 5 years – even MySpace continues to exist in some capacity – but a smarter, more personable site is bound to supplant it. Twitter may then morph into something else, as Friendster has. (It's currently a gaming site.)
- All that said, it still has its uses. Twitter's great for discovering and disseminating breaking news, especially that which may not be reported by the media in a timely manner, if at all. (Of course, you're more likely to find speculation and hearsay on Twitter than hard facts, but...) And it's nice to know that you can leave a public record of something ("IN DAMASCUS PRISON, HELP ME"), even if nobody is likely to see it. And if you're a fan of Taylor Swift, it's paradise.