Twitter's back alleys and dark places
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Twitter keeps evolving. No, that's not really true, Twitter, itself, is pretty much what it was two years ago. But the way we USE Twitter has changed tremendously over the last year or so.
But with evolution comes unexpected consequences, and the view I'm getting lately is turning ugly. Let's see if I can sum up how Twitter is set up to fall into the sewer:
Status vs Chat
Twitter was originally called a "mircroblogging site." The idea was just to tell people what you're doing, and more precisely, to share with a specific circle of your friends. It's being used as a random chat room -- and chat almost always turns dirty.
While I don't see anything really wrong with chat, I wouldn't expect Proctor and Gamble or Comcast to put their customer service people into chat rooms where people are exchanging details about what they want to do to each other's genitalia.
Ultimately the value of chat isn't very high -- it's a useful social function, but unless you assemble an Algonquin Round Table of smart, witty, articulate people, Twitter is doomed to be "LOL! RT @DumassDude Fart noyz is kool!"
See but not seen
It is possible to keep other people from seeing your posts by setting your profile to private, but that doesn't stop people from contacting you; all they have to do is "mention" you as in "Hey, @your_name, check out this filthy link: http://linktoreallysickstuff.com". (See Twitter Followers Don't Matter (ask the porn sites))
The only way you can choose not to see something is to block an individual. Of course, everyone else can see what that person is saying about you, and if they "retweet" you'll still see it. Not only that, but all they have to do is set up another account and hit you again until you block THAT account.
This is the equivalent of responding to being verbally assaulted by putting your hands on your ears, closing your eyes and repeating, "Nah nah nah. I'm not listening." But it's your only recourse.
Every social media and blog site I've seen has some form of adult content notification. Yahoo has been doing this with their groups for over a decade. Facebook has age restrictions. Blogspot puts up a roadblock that says "Do you really want to see this content?" Google has "safe search." Even Craigslist, the nickel ads for hookers and swingers, has a warning on their dating and "Casual Encounters" sections.
But Twitter not only has no filters for adult content, it doesn't provide ANY filters of any kind. The fact that my company message might appear in the same stream of text as someone talking, in graphic detail, about what they're doing on their webcam, right now could prove embarrassing in the board meeting.
I'm not advocating censorship, but I am advocating tagging certain accounts for certain behavior so that if I'm not interested in dirty talk, I can turn it off. I actually like the Google solution best -- let me set my level of safety depending on my mood or what I'm doing. I may want really filtered results when at work, and I may want to go wild at home, but I should be able to choose.
Probably one of the darker things I've been seeing on Twitter lately has been the cyber bullying. This is happening a lot with the liberal/conservative, um, "debate" is probably too nice a word.
Someone, let's say "Bob" will decide they don't like someone else, "Mary." Because Twitter is a big open forum, Bob can start saying that Mary is not only a horrible person, but can also say thing like "OMG! I can't believe she said this RT @Mary I kill puppies for fun!" Mary may never have said such a thing, but there is absolutely no recourse, or any way to validate that Mary is, indeed, a puppy killer.
This can then lead to a slew of people blocking Mary, and if enough people block her, Twitter will suspend her account, with very little recourse left to Mary. I've been through this one with an experimental account where Twitter decided I was devious, and I can tell you, proving otherwise to Twitter is a frustrating, "guilty even if proven innocent" process. My guess is that as Twitter becomes more rambunctious, the available Twitter support staff to make judgements about he says/she says arguments is only going to get worse.
For the non-technical reader, the API is a way that I can write my own programs that talk to Twitter. I see a lot of accounts that are just a stream of advertisements, and the source is almost always "API" or some program like "Twitfeed."
It's one thing to promote yourself in the course of a conversation. It's another thing to be standing in a cocktail party, chatting with you neighbor, and have someone interrupt you by shouting, "I sell cars on 9th Street! Come on over!" It's disruptive, and it's very easy to do with the tools Twitter has created.
The programs are tireless, and they are learning the limits of Twitter's monitoring programs that might otherwise shut them down for abusing the API. This means more and more "content" on Twitter isn't content at all, and people quickly lose interest as Twitter loses relevancy. But the noise remains.
The theme here is the complete lack of control in the Twitterverse. These problems can be solved, and may get solved using tools like Tweetdeck or other clients built on the Twitter API, but that always leaves the question of how Twitter will make money if no one is using Twitter's interface.
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Be sure to see my blog over at Cloudenity. This week's topic:
Identity Isn't Just for Users Anymore