Twitter Isn’t a Conversation

Blah, blah, blah, Twitter, blah, blah, blah.

Blah, blah, blah, Twitter, blah, blah, blah.

The idea that Twitter is a conversation isn’t accurate.

Oh, there’s no doubt that people “connect” on Twitter – scheduling, chatting, etc.  But truly comprehensive conversations?  Not really.

Why?  Because conversations aren’t just about communicating back and forth.  A conversation involves body language, facial expressions, tone, hand and eye gestures, pauses and moments of silence and even touching.  You can’t replicate a real-life conversation – or even a telephone discussion – on a platform that only provides 140 characters to express yourself and the participants need to engage sequentially.

When you think about conversations in these terms – the idea that Twitter is one seems patently ridiculous.

But it doesn’t matter.  Twitter is extremely valuable because it is a communication, collaboration and idea exchange.  It’s a personalized RSS feed on steroids.  It’s a conversation ice breaker.  It’s a platform that captures trends and news.  And it is one of the best broadcasting platforms on the Web today.

So while there has been lots of discussion lately about whether Twitter is a conversational platform – it really isn’t the point.  Conversations aren’t that important on Twitter.  Mark Drapeau over at O’Reilly Radar has an excellent post arguing that at its essence Twitter is a collaboration platform.

Drapeau and others compare Twitter to a wiki – which is a fascinating way to consider the service.

The comparison and the idea that Twitter isn’t a conversation also works if you consider some of the recent data about Twitter mined by HubSpot in its recently published report called 2009 State of the Twittersphere.  If you sort through the data you’ll find some compelling numbers.  Here’s a few that stand out:

  • 55% of people with accounts have never tweeted.
  • 52% have no followers
  • 55% are not following anyone

This can be explained, in part, by inactive accounts.  But HubSpot calculated inactive accounts (those with fewer than 10 followers and 10 updates) and found that just 9 percent of Twitter accounts fell into the inactive category.

So what’s going on?  Clearly, not a lot of conversations – or even psuedo-conversations.  What appears to be happening is a lot of listening.  People are using Twitter to find data, discover new ideas, and even follow trends.  In other words, they appear to be using Twitter as an informational wiki – a place to find out what is happening right now.

The best evidence for this can be found in a Harvard Business School Study that found 10 percent of the users on Twitter account for 90 percent of the content.  This is very much the model of a Wikipedia.  The Harvard study reported:

“To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits. In other words, the pattern of contributions on Twitter is more concentrated among the few top users than is the case on Wikipedia, even though Wikipedia is clearly not a communications tool. This implies that Twitter’s resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.”

So much for Twitter as a conversation.

How are you using Twitter?  What value are you finding?  Do you think of Twitter as a conversational platform?

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