Thursday, January 24, 2013

Am I crazy, or is Twitter a poor substitute for blogging?

(Yes, I realize that "and" may be more appropriate than "or" in the post title.)

I have been blogging since 2003 - not a long time by Dave Winer standards, but still significant - and I continue to blog today. Others do not. Spencer Rascoff has offered one explanation:

But now that Twitter is part of my daily routine, I blog less.

Rascoff lists four advantages of Twitter over blogs. Item 2 (shorter posts) is primarily a matter of style - for me, 140 characters is TOO short for anything that I want to say. Item 3 (less friction) is definitely true - it's obviously easier to write and distribute a tweet than it is to write and distribute a blog post. Item 4 (more interaction) is again a matter of style - while I tend to interact in longer-form comments (such as Google+ threads and the forthcoming nested Facebook threads), it is obviously possible to engage in a conversation on Twitter (even if, in my personal opinion, Twitter is a poor tool for engagement - others have better success at it).

You'll note that I skipped over Rascoff's item 1.

Bigger audience. I now have 40,000 followers on Twitter. I have never looked at the readership on my blogs, but I'm sure it's much less than that.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a mistake in logic. Let me explain.

Now I have far fewer followers on Twitter - the number of people following the @empoprises Twitter account is a little over 1,500 - but I do not make the mistake of saying that I have an "audience" of 1,500. I don't even have a potential audience of 1,500.

First, there's a chance that some of my followers are bots. Bots don't care what I write, and are never going to engage me in two-way conversation. They'll just spout off their bot stuff in a single direction.

Second, even the accounts with real people may not really be following me - some are following me and never looking at my feed again, hoping that I will follow them and look at their own feeds. These people are just like bots - they're using Twitter as a one-way communication method and don't care what comes back.

Third, let's move down to the group that are following me and, for whatever bizarre reason, are interested in what I say. These people are following their own 1,500 people, or 10,000 people, or 1,000,000 people. So let's say that @phildel (yeah, her) goes to her Twitter feed and reads everything that everyone said in the last 15 minutes. If I last tweeted 20 minutes ago - or 2 days ago - she will never see my tweet.

(Yes, you could theoretically read everything in your stream, but I learned way back in the FriendFeed days that this is impossible.)

So when I share a link to this post on Twitter, or when I share it to my Empoprises Public Community on Google+ and then re-share it to my personal feed, I am under no illusion that every one of my Twitter/Google+ followers/friends will see it.

This applies to other distribution methods as well. Don't bother to direct message me via Twitter - I check my DMs every few months. Sure, I may have x people still reading my blogs in an RSS feed, but who checks their RSS feeds nowadays? I have email subscribers also, but who reads email? I guess I could theoretically send my blog posts to people via snail mail, but people get so much junk mail that those would probably be tossed also.

So at the end of the day, just because x people potentially have access to your content via a particular medium, that doesn't necessarily mean that your audience consists of x people. Your audience is lower - possibly much lower.

Specifically concerning Twitter - while there may be valid reasons for certain people (with a certain conversational style) to use Twitter as their primary social media platform, the number of Twitter followers is NOT one of those reasons.

Now I just have to boil this down to 140 characters or less...
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