Twitter times

So what do you guys use Twitter for?

Not a rhetorical question, that — I’d really like to know. And the curiosity is prompted by a gradual change in my own use of the medium.

At first, the blog used to be for when I had something to say, and Twitter for when I wanted to hang with the crowd and have some fun. Shift 1 came when I realized that blogging has a certain limitation: it is just great for when you have a specific thought you want to put out there in the public domain, but sometimes you come across an interesting read you’d like to share, without any further amplification. At such times, it is almost too much trouble to log in to blog just to post a link. Enter Twitter: cut paste the link, preface it with a ‘Read’ note, and you’re done.

More recently, Twitter is — for me — changing character again. Besides pointing at interesting stuff to read, I find that if you follow people selectively, you end up with a well-curated web; the people you follow surface most of the links relating to your interest areas, and save you the trouble of surfing over to dozens of different sites.

Here’s what I found, during the very short drive to work this morning:

From the New York Review of Books blog, Malise Ruthven on a social revolution through the medium of public toilets — courtesy the NYRB Twitter feed.

The inimitable Jon Stewart on the ongoing ‘Pope Opera’, courtesy HuffPost.

News of a tell all look on Gandhi’s sex life. Yeah, *that* Gandhi. Courtesy UltraBrown.

A blog post on wikileaks as a primary journalism resource — wikileaks, as a post I noticed yesterday pointed out, is already scooping more stories than say the Washington Post has in its entire existence. Courtesy Msaleem.

Ghalib, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar. Courtesy ‘madversity’, a journalist and friend.

And that is a short list culled from over two dozen stories that surfaced on my stream during that short drive, of which I found at least five — in addition to the ones listed above — compelling.

It’s getting so I’m seriously contemplating taking my Twitter stream to the potty, replacing the traditional newspaper.

There is one other reason I’m getting to like Twitter. In a word, feedback. Post a thought here, and I can be fairly certain that within minutes — and often before the first comment is posted here — a dozen different people have reacted to it on my stream. Sometimes it is just a retweet — which tells me something too; specifically it tells me that the poster thought the content good enough to pass on to his friends. Often, it is questions — which tell me that perhaps the original post did not cover all the bases. And sometimes it is criticism — which, most times, points at fallacies in the original argument, or if it is misdirected, tells me I was right in the first instance.

All of which is precisely what you lacked as a print journalist, where the feedback was never this quick, this precise, and this focused. Add the curated web to the mix, and it tells you why I spend a large chunk of my spare time on Twitter these days.

A tangential point about the criticism: Twitter is not for the thin skinned; not for those who believe that they are delivering the sermon on the mount. Case in point, Sagarika Ghose. Check this out.

Here’s the deal: if what you chose to put out in the public domain is not thought through with due rigor, the universe out there will not make allowances for you. The people who read you have minds of their own — and on Twitter and in the comments field of blogs, rarely shy away from speaking it, loud and clear. If you can’t handle that heat, dude, save the pontifications for print, and for television, where you can control the feedback.

End of rant. Your turn — what do you use Twitter for, and why? How does it differ from say how you use Facebook? The feedback is important, folks — I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate these tools into what we do at Yahoo, and I’d like to go beyond the bleeding obvious. Appreciate any thoughts, links, etc.

25 thoughts on “Twitter times

  1. I guess I am a technophobe and dont use twitter or facebook.

    I am a fan of Google’s minimalist design philosphy though and follow google news and am on Orkut

  2. Prem,

    Similar to what you have mentioned, I use twitter to
    a) share links that I feel are useful/enjoyable to my friends
    b) links to my blog posts
    c) thoughts that are short and dont necessitate a blog-post

    What I would like to see in Yahoo is a cricket commentary via twitter (remember that most of these Social Networking sites are blocked within offices but twitter streams are visible now on Google Search) – especially if it is done by folks like you, Aakash and others. The IPL channel on Youtube shows the discussions on the home-page on a similar manner.

    The other suggestion is to have folks who are at ground stream video from their mobile phone on to the yahoo site (the real ‘citizen reporter’). There are open-source tools that can be modified & used for this purpose.


  3. Prem, Twitter is more like IM while Facebook or Linked In is like having your own online fraternity of friends or professional associations respectively. I use Twitter to follow discussion threads that interest me. The biggest plus is that I get to benefit from the research done by others when the post interesting online links. I think that a truly news driven online fraternity makes a lot of sense in India. It will fill the gaping void that exists across all forms of media created from the total absence of any independent thought or objective reporting of news and events. I cannot watch any Indian news channel for more than 2 minutes – the shrill opinionated anchors or “journalists” makes me scramble for the remote. If you can tap into the Yahoo brand to create a truly objective news dissemination and collaborative reporting alternative, you will definitely find tremendous acceptance across a cross section of the population who are starving for an alternative to TOI, Hindustan Times, CNN-IBN, NDTV and the likes. All the Best.

  4. Pingback: Off for the weekend « Smoke Signals

  5. I use twitter for my daily rant on all things sporting, and the odd occasional news item. It’s been a place of good banter as well having found people to share similar tastes, in my case namely sports. During weekends with the IPL it’s been laugh a riot, tweeting on the banal commentary and having the odd feedback from people having similar views.

    I also appreciate it when there is actual two way feedback, rather than he/she says and no response to any queries. In that regard, Prem you’ve been pretty good !

  6. Prem, I use twitter to follow ‘celebrities’ and I include you in that! 🙂 I mainly follow cricket writers, tennis players, cricketers (not many out there) and bollywood (tons out there, only few worth it though). Gives a sense of having heard it from the ‘horse’s mouth’, gives a chance to directly interact with them (don’t do much of it though). Don’t tweet myself.
    Use Facebook for socializing with friends/relatives sharing life details (more passive than active).
    Am not a news junkie, hardly surf for it. Most news do hardly any good to brighten up your day. But between the two above, I get updates, references to the links that I would most care about thus obviating any need for ‘pro-active’ surfing. [Even with this, end up spending more time on all these than would like to with full-time job and family commitments.]

  7. To follow like minded people who give out interesting links.

    Follow people who tweet about different subjects like following you will give out good links on cricket..pragmatic_d, smitaprakash, vikram sood on current affairs…movie reviews of masand and rajasen…sidin for humour likewise…

    initially started off following all the bollywood celebs…now have unfollowed almost all because of their fit for nothing muaah…hugssss…love you…shit…

  8. Awesome! Btw, the “check this out” link doesn’t go anywhere (after Sagarika Ghose mention. I know she’s a bad precedent but…)

    I’m having problems now with too much info on Twitter.Need to organize – links, conversations, rants, multi-tweet thoughts. But yeah, I love the instant feedback!

  9. Follow to get information or links to interesting news/articles. Also follow a few ids related to my area of work. A few of my friends and relatives are also on twitter. I do not tweet much – use it more as an information source.

    • Also, following live events like cricket matches or the terrorist attack in Mumbai have provided a different experience. On the former, I get interesting, humorous comments that make watching cricket better – better than listening to the TV commentary these days. On the latter, it helps to get independent views on a serious event like the attacks than from the biased TV anchors.

  10. Prem: Actually, most Indian media folks are doing their brands/companies (CNN-IBN, NDTV) great harm by all these mindless posturing and pontification on twitter. I can’t say for others but I can’t watch NDTV and CNN-IBN for more than a few seconds if either of Dutt, Sardesai or Ghose are on them. Becasue, I already know their position on various issues and hence can’t expect them to have a fair and balanced debate. What’s wrong with being a nationalist or an internet nationalist? Also, if one doesn’t want to interact with lowly internet junta, they certainly can take the twitter account private. CNN-IBN: Big fail. Do these guys realize the damage they are doing to their brand. But then why should they care if they have the mai-baap DAVP to fill their coffers by putting hindi adverts intended for migrating workers on “high-brow” english channels?

    • Interesting point, raag — hadn’t thought of the downside as manifest in the interactions of some of these media folks.

      • I agree on the not for the thin skinned bit — one of the nice things about it is the nature of the simple and honest feedback you get on it which can sometimes hit your ego in the wrong place. Also agree on the inanity the shrill cacophony that Sagarika, Barkha, etc. usually are.

        Can’t quite agree with the dude who wrote the blocked-by-sagarika piece though. She definitely din’t say nothing wrong in the bombing-isn’t-the-solution-here tweet.

        • Point I guess is, whether SG was right or wrong is a whole other debate — the trouble is, the lady clearly is not up for a debate, but prefers to block any who question. Not that I mind, particularly — it’s her life. As someone pointed out in one of the other comments, though, seems one heck of a counter intuitive way to build a brand.

    • You nailed it Sir 🙂

      With Twitter, you don’t need a news channel anymore. I have stopped watching TV for news. In fact, my Google Reader usage has also gone down.

  11. Just now finished reading the article on Gandhi’s sex life. I hope this makes it to Indian mainstream and I am eagerly awaiting the response of our moral brigade. BTW, looks like Gandhi had a jolly good time:-)

    • And, (cause we did not exist in that time, and all we know is what written words tell us) I think what is written there for `sex’ is true in a lot of other contexts also. [Eg. It seems that Gandhi lived as he wished, and only when challenged did he turn his own preferences into a cosmic system of rewards and benefits. Like many great men, Gandhi made up the rules as he went along].

      Ya, be interesting to to see storm it kicks up when (and if) it is launched in India.

  12. I joined twitter recently, right now I am mainly a consumer i rarely tweet myself so In that regard is the best ebertchicago tweet to follow.

    I am into US politics and also a liberal hence I follow ThePlumLineGS ,markos , fivethirtyeight , ggreenwald , ezraklein , maddow , mattyglesias etc.

    Prempanicker is the only Indian that I am following so far to keep up with whats happening on Smoke Signals.

    So far this short of list of people that I follow rarely rant or are incoherent in their tweets . Its been a good experience.

  13. In addition to twitter being a source for links, news and what’s generally happening in the lives of people I know, I use it for a number of things
    1. Have an account to log my workouts
    2. Another account to log important events in my life
    3. A company I know publishes its daily canteen menu through twitter

    Ultimately I think it is a blank canvas, you draw on it the image you want.

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