Misuses of Twitterfeed

Blogger’s website today advertises a “Tweet Your Blog” service from Twitterfeed, whereby you can have it automatically post a tweet whenever you write a blog post. In other words, you can fill up your Twitter account with crap more easily!

But let me back up for a moment…

I’m a firm believe that things have their place, even on the internet. One shouldn’t, for example, send an email requesting information one needs immediately. That’s what phone calls are for. We all pay $50+ a month to carry a cell phone everywhere we go so we can be reached immediately if needed. Email, Facebook messages, instant messages, etc. all require the recipient to be at his computer. Even with text messages and push updates, the user has to have a phone that supports them and has to hear the single beep announcing them.

Messaging in general has a hierarchy:

  1. Immediate conversation: telephone.
  2. Relay information quickly, but not the end of the world if they don’t see it: text message.
  3. Semi-live conversation: instant message chat.
  4. Information you don’t need them to get right away: email.
  5. You don’t know their email address but need to send them a message, the more important part of which is, “send me your email address”: Facebook messaging. (Yes, I’m old.)

The thesis here being that various communication media have their positives and negatives, and working within the constraints of what they were designed to do tends to be the best way to go.

Weblogs have a companion system designed to help people find out when they’ve posted an update: RSS. If you like a weblog, you should subscribe to its RSS feed. If you don’t use RSS already, go sign up for Google Reader. It’ll keep track of the sites you like and show you their updates with an hour or so of them being published. No need to go check each website yourself.

So if I’ve done what I’m supposed to do and subscribed to your blog in my RSS reader, I’ll see your new post next time I check it. But if you’re using something like Blogger’s Twitterfeed recommendation, and I follow you on Twitter, too, I’m going to end up seeing your post twice. Though often criticized for being filled with useless patter, a carefully curated Twitter feed contains good information you want to read from your friends. Fill that up with “Check out my new blog post!” links to posts you’re already going to see in your RSS reader, and the signal-to-noise ratio starts to skew. (And all those retweets.)

Poor Twitter is already victim to too much misuse. It wisely kept its service very open at the start, which let people design some cool extensions and applications for it,¹ but also left it open, like many previously useful services, to being ruined by marketers, companies, politicians, etc. Twitter’s greatest value is in being able to keep an open chatroom with your friends. You can also use it to read celebrity’s tweets, and that’s fun, but it becomes a thin, one-way experience if that’s all you use it for. Is there any reason you’d want to read a newspaper’s tweets? Shouldn’t you just buy the paper or go to its website? Yes, a corporation can try to get in on the hot new thing by creating a Twitter feed, but the chance that it’s going to provide anything other than a shallow marketing channel is pretty small. Twitter’s for sharing thoughts, and companies don’t have those. People do.

  1. I should add here, way down at the bottom of the post, because I didn’t find a good place above to mention it, that I do think Twitterfeed, which Blogger is recommending people use to tweet their blog posts, is a great use of Twitter’s open approach. It’s great that there are lots of interesting ways to get information into and out of Twitter, and there are plenty of good reasons you might want to post the contents of an RSS feed to a Twitter account. I just don’t think a standard blog is an apt use. RSS works well with blogs because it’s a subscription-based concept, not a notification service (and though that looks to be changing, pushbutton RSS readers will still be the right place to read blogs, not Twitter). Twitterfeed, combined with Twitter’s ability to send text messages, can be used to notify you of eBay auctions, or sales on w00t, or new comments you need to approve on your blog, or post to Twitter that you’re going to be out of town via Dopplr without having to remember to do it yourself, and so on.