Qwitter's launch last week seems to have thrown the Twittersphere (God, what a horrible world) temporarily, as plenty of the site's users suddenly find themselves in a bit of an etiquette dilemma. Basically, Qwitter's an application that sends you a quick email whenever anybody unfollows you, along with your last Tweet. Kind of like one of those ridiculous exit interviews companies insist on putting you through. Or the kind of social media tool that neurotic recent singletons, who pour over every minute of a a failed relationship, would love.
So far, so pointless. But if there's on thing the internet doesn't need, it's a rather useless service that feeds insecurities of online friendships. God alone knows we have enough problem with that offline, and Louis Gray has a pretty good analysis of Qwitter:
"What Qwitter has done with this unnecessary "service" (and I use that term loosely) is turn a very mundane, passive act that usually reflects more on a person's available time than a follower's actions into an act of aggression with some seemingly dubious "reason" behind it. I can see this turning ugly, as friends who discover that friends sometimes unfollow them take it personally. This means instead of realizing that on Twitter you can go back and forth with a kind of ebb and flow as needed, those with hurt feelings from being unfollowed proceed to email demanding logic, reasons, and possibly even threatening retaliation or repercussions. Qwitter feeds insecurity and neuroses by making something simple into some kind of seeming failure or insult.
The thing about the internet is that it has a tendency to turn aggressive in a hurry. Twitter has, until now, avoided that Internet Troll atmosphere and been a relatively happy place to connect with people online in a very low-key and self-directed way. There are a few Twitter Trolls, but not that many, thanks largely to the anonymous unfollow and anonymous block features. Qwitter changes that, and for what?"
One of the main reason to love Twitter is the free swopping of ideas and conversation between people you wouldn't other meet, but it doesn't matter if the following isn't reciprocal.
I follow plenty of people on Twitter who haven't returned the compliment, and nor would I necessarily suspect them to. Just because I find what they have to say interesting, doesn't mean they're going to think the same about what I say.
And vice-versa. I have a lot of random people following me, some of whom I've followed back, some of who seem interesting but I'm not too concerned about following them back, and some who - like some of those I follow who don't follow me back - I'm sure are lovely people, but there's no interest there for me.
To any of those people reading this, sorry it's not personal! I'm sure I've probably lost a fair few Twitter followers because there's a fair bit of football chat on my feed (which I am conscious of, and have considered setting up a separate feed for) and the sheer banality of some of my Tweets.
But it's definitely not like Facebook, where there's a definite awkwardness about having people add you who you'd rather not add, or debating whether you should add colleagues, or ex-girlfriends, and the like. Twitter's a lot more laid back, and is all the better forward.
Sally at Getting Ink has also been thinking among similar lines, this time in relation to the Twitter Karma application:
"I follow people on Twitter on the basis that I find what they post interesting and relevant to me. It doesn't necessarily follow that what I say will be equally interesting and relevant to them. So, let's imagine I'm following someone interesting, but they're not interested in me - do they then become LESS interesting as a consequence? Should I only be listening to people to listen to me?"
Nonetheless, it feels like Twitter's slowly moving from the childlike to the adolescent - like the acne-ridden teenager who suddenly becomes aware of the social groups and has to decide (or try) to fit in with them or not. Whether this is a good thing or not, I'm not sure.
How Twitter works best isn't as a popularity contest or a desire to be loved, but, as Mike Butcher says:
"It quickly became apparent that this was turning into the best use of Twitter of all. Not for long, winding conversations you might have on instant messaging, but short, to the point wise-cracks between people interspersed with a little status update here, a small observation on life there. Twitter was no longer about ’status’ or ‘what are you doing’. It was about conversation, ‘what are you thinking’, ‘what are we talking about’.
The key difference is that people who say “take this conversation over into IM” don’t get it. IM can’t do what Twitter does. You can’t instant message into “the cloud”. With Twitter you can. You can shout or whisper whatever you want to say out into the ether and anyone online can hear you. And anyone following you, even if you don;t follow them, can reply - then you may well become connected."
And Charles Arthur notes, in his typically blunt but nonetheless spot-on style, there's only so much Twittering you can take:
"It’s simple really. In an attention economy, there’s only so much time I can listen to what colour your curtains are. Then, I’ve got to get on and earn some money. Please, no hurt feelings though. In the meantime, I’ve resolved to try to tweet useful stuff. Though the temptation to put any old rubbish in is huge, I have to admit."
I've made lots of contacts and a few good friends through Twitter already, and a lot of people in my feed often stick up very interesting links (I'm probably rather bad at doing this). It's relaxed, interesting and fun. Kind of like an online version of Central Perk, if you will.
What it doesn't need is people suddenly starting to take it too seriously, which is what a lot of the worry and chatter around Qwitter and Twitter Karma feels like. Have a cup of tea, relax and we can Tweet about it.
While I'm on the topic of Twitter, a couple more examples of how the social-networking-cum-microblogging-cum-conversation site is continuing its quest for world domination rise in popularity and usefulness.
It's very different from Stephen Fry, but is a good example of how those working with a big star or somebody slightly less gadget and web-obsessed (those are good thing by the way, before Stephen Fry gets hurt) can use a Twitter feed.
There's some nice openness and accountability - very Web 2.0, especially this Tweet - with conversation and a team (or possibly just one woman, Lauren) updating the feed reasonably regularly. It's a good balance for a star like Britney and is a good model for any other celebrity thinking about using Twitter.
What's more, it gives Britney devotees, of which I'm sure there are many out there (I can't class myself as one of them, although Toxic was a great pop record) a chance to get closer to her than any celebrity magazine could offer.
Now there's a thought. Could Twitter kill off Heat magazine?
The other sign that Twitter is slowly marching on came in a phone conversation today. I was in PR mode, pitching a small item to a few local papers, and rung an old university friend and colleague who worked on one of these papers.
I'd barely begun explaining what I was ringing about before he cut in to tell me that he knew what I was ringing about and had already mentioned it to his editor, all because of a couple of Tweets I'd done earlier in the week.
Now - if either as a PR or a journalist or both - if that doesn't get you excited about the power of social media tools like Twitter for 'traditional' media work, then I guess nothing will.