The most frequent criticism of Twitter that I hear is that the service is a waste of time. It’s all about people telling the world what they had for breakfast or how long they’ve been waiting for a bus. Don’t we have better things to do?
I decided to try a short experiment. I clipped a 100-tweet block from my Twitter stream at random and examined the contents to see just how much useful content there was, if any.
A little background first: I follow about 1,150 people and I prune my list with some care. If someone’s tweets are completely irrelevant to my interests, I unfollow that person. I only follow people who interest me or who send me a personal request asking me to follow them. That weeds out the spammers and bots.
Here are my results
- 42% of the tweets were what I’d call random. These were mostly along the lines of what people had for breakfast or ongoing conversations I hadn’t followed.
- 12% contained news of general interest (BTW, Twitter has been one of the best places to monitor the ongoing news of the Samoan tsunami this week).
- 33% were referral links to information that the writer found interesting.
- 7% were notable quotes.
- 6% were either self-promotional messages or requests for advice.
Two statistics interested me in particular. One was that 45% of the tweets contained a link. This indicates that Twitter is used at least as much to point friends to interesting information as it is to comment on everyday activities. After all, you can’t link to what you had for breakfast. The other is that at least 20 of the tweets interested me enough that I wanted to learn more.
This wasn’t the kind of reading I would find on a typical news website. Here’s a sampling:
- “Subjects of news coverage now try to write the stories themselves using pro journalists. http://is.gd/3OEDM
- “33 WordPress Plugins To Power Up Your Comment Section http://bit.ly/2TIg9
- “Video Viewing on the Rise: 161M Viewers, 25B Videos http://post.ly/6nGL
- “Blogger Relations is a Two-Way Street http://ow.ly/rLpL
- “5 Ways to Make Your Business More Transparent. http://url4.eu/YZfM”
It isn’t CNN.com, but then I don’t use Twitter for the same reason I use CNN. The bottom line is that the 4 1/2 minutes it took me to read 100 tweets yielded at least 20 items of interest. There are other places on the Web where I could consume more information in less time, but it’s a different kind of information. It’s not less valuable, just different.
Newspaper and magazine editors often complain that the rise of customized news services has shortchanged readers by removing the element of discovery that a printed publication delivers. However, the Twitter stream and Facebook news feed deliver just as much surprise and delight as any professional media entity, if not more. The only difference: the recommendations come from people I know instead of professional editors.
It turns out that avid Web users are just as interested in discovery as print readers. It’s just that they’ve found a faster, less intrusive, more personal and more ecologically friendly way to go about it. Is it any wonder mainstream media is dying?