Why I Use Twitter

Not everyone likes twitter, but I do. I love it.

Twitter is an often misunderstood – and therefore an often disliked and under-appreciated – web service. I think the greatest contributing factor to Twitter’s perceived short-comings is that people have pigeonholed it into fulfilling a specific task or view it as a one-way medium, shadowed by the misleading guise of Facebook.

It’s 2012, why is this relevant?

This post was originally drafted in 2010, but I’m still regularly asked, “why do you use twitter?” by people I see in real life. So, if you’re one of those persons, I wrote this for you.

Isn’t Twitter Just Facebook Updates?

In a sense, yes. Except, Twitter actually predates Facebook’s status updates and news feed by several years. Plus, every major feature added to the Facebook’s news feed since it’s release was inspired by, or lifted directly from, Twitter. Fact.

But, regardless of the similarities in their feature set, Twitter and Facebook serve two entirely different purposes in my life, and each one serves it’s purpose better.

Twitter Makes a Great News Source

Every single one of the most important breaking stories from the last year (the past several years now) was first reported via twitter. Oftentimes Twitter broke the news hours before any major media outlet was ready to report and, in many cases, was even cited as a source by the other media outlet.

Content is curated specifically to my interests

Unlike Facebook, where the news I’m seeing is a random assortment of what people are doing, thinking, liking, installing, viewing, etc. my Twitter stream is a highly curated list filled with topics that fuel my creativity and quench my thirst for knowledge. Of course, there are still the rogue tweets about what sandwich someone is eating and the occasional mundane update, but these are certainly the exception and not the standard in my feed.

It’s easy to track specific topics and events on Twitter

This goes hand in hand with my previous two points. It’s incredibly easy to follow all conversations surrounding a specific topic, event or news story given the way twitter is optimized for searching and real-time updates. The standardized adoption of hashtags (e.g. #this) over the past two years has made this task even easier.

Twitter helps me stay current in my field

I follow a number of well-known and established web developers, designers and photographers. I also follow a number of influential readers who share lots of great articles, Thanks to their proclivity for tweeting cool/useful resources I’m able to stay ahead of the curve on many trends and techniques.

Twitter helps me keep up with friends

Alright, so this is an area where I will concede to say Facebook is doing things better, but only if you’re using it right. If your friend list is a simply mass of random people, and you haven’t taken any time to group them in any way that is meaningful to you, you’re back to a useless mess of content.

With Twitter I’m able to catch updates from friends that would never make it to their blog (if they even have a blog) and catch some unique/temporal news that might never make it to Facebook either (I have to be honest, even if it does make it to Facebook, I won’t be there to read it).

Twitter is Focused*

One of my favorite aspects of Twitter is how focused it forces me (and others) to be in my word choice. Updates must be pared down and revised for maximum impact, and tweet volume must be considered as well so as to not dilute the likelihood that someone will actually read my tweets. As many have pointed out already, limiting oneself to 140 characters is a great way to get to the core of a message and determine what’s really important.

*Yes, you can always argue that people are sharing junk via twitter, but you can also make that argument across most other mediums as well… Facebook, texting, phone conversations, chit-chat during lunch. My point here is that twitter, moreso than other mediums, forces the user to focus on what they’re saying.

Twitter is a great promotion tool

Lastly, from a strictly business point of view, I’ve found that Twitter is absolutely indispensable for finding exciting work/hungry employees, or promoting a new business, product or service. As a freelancer I was able to secure a number of projects via Twitter, as an employer I was able to find a number of reliable workers. And, as a producer, I’m able to connect directly with users interested in my products and services.

Enough from me, though. Why do you use twitter? Or, perhaps, why don’t you?

Fixing Bugs -or- Why 5 minutes Sometimes Means 2 hours

I’ll try to keep this brief, as I’m sure you all probably realized this already. Even so, it’s always a good reminder and will help keep developers and non-developers on speaking terms.

I’ve got a simple analogy for you as to why some (many) things take longer to develop than developers initially estimate and, more importantly, why we perpetually believe it will only be “just 5 more minutes” as we continue to debug.

The leaky sink.

Now, a leaky faucet is presumably simple fix. You will usually have a good idea where the problem is coming from because you can clearly see where the water is leaking, but not always. Most leaks can be fixed with what you already have around the house, but sometimes you have to go out an get new parts. Many times you’ll already know how to fix it, but now and again you’ll need to do a bit of research. Lastly, once in a great while you’ll need to call in an expert, because the problem either wasn’t what you expected OR it becomes too big for you to quickly do by yourself.

Sometimes it’s a simple problem… (5min or less)

The best scenario. This is when you didn’t close the tap all the way, or something has come just a little loose. In programming, this would be a typo or a simple logic error. No big deal, it’s already fixed.

Sometimes it’s a different problem… (5min, x2)

This one is annoying. You thought it was a problem with the faucet, but later found out it was a problem with the tap. You’ve already spent 5min working on the faucet, and now realize you need to spend another 5min on the tap. This happens a LOT in programming.

Sometimes it’s multiple problems… (5min, x2, x2, x2)

Now you’re really frustrated. You looked at the faucet and saw it wasn’t there, then you spent 5min on the tap and the leak still exists. Now as you look more closely you see there’s actually another (two, three, four) problems happening underneath the sink. Or, worse, because you fixed one problem you’ve actually created a problem elsewhere (without the steady leak, now a pressure buildup has busted a pipe. $#!&).

Sometimes there’s a false positive… (5min, x2 …. wait 30min, try again)

The leak has stopped! …temporarily, until you or someone else tries to use the faucet again. You’ve spent your 5 (10, 15) minutes fixing what you thought was the problem, and now the problem is back again. In programming, this is especially troubling because now you’re not sure if it’s just a caching issue or something else entirely.

Sometimes there is no problem… (30min for nothing, FML)

There wasn’t a leak, you (or someone else) just splashed some water up behind the sink. In programming, you’ve spent the last 30 minutes chasing a bug that doesn’t exist. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Hang on, just 5 more minutes…

Next time a developer tells you “Just 5 more minutes” and they’re wrong, remind yourself that they’re not lying and they’re not bad at estimating (and no, they don’t hate you), they’ve just encountered a new or different (or additional) problem than they set out to fix 5 minutes ago.