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The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about it

By Andrew Pollack on 08/12/2008 at 04:23 PM EDT

Twitter has ripped through our community like a wave, capturing the time wasting cycles and a few more than that from quite a few people. The problem is, its totally the wrong tool for us. Twitter is meant to be a tool to tell your friends and followers "what you're doing" so they can meet up with you. It isn't meant as a chat room at all. Most messages should be one line saying "I'm here, doing this."

Twitter has become -- for many in the Domino Blogger community -- a kind of limited chat room. Why? Because there is a need for a social space like that. We want to be having side conversations while we're working, sitting through boring meetings, watching television, or whatever else. We enjoy that. We get to know each other better, and we keep in touch with those we know fairly well.

The truth is, Twitter is absolutely terrible if used as this tool. The latency is ridiculous, the stability is poor, and the functionality is extremely limited.

On top of that, using Twitter this way is swamping Twitter. The tool itself can't survive the use of it as a chat room on a large scale. The architecture is wrong for it.

So why do we use it?

We use it because its a free, wide open, many-to-many unplanned chatter tool with a very low barrier to entry. There are other tools like that though, which are better suited to what we want.

So what should be done? That's fairly straightforward. We should establish a Domino Bloggers community chat channel on IRC, or public chat room on Skype, or something similar.

There are tools designed for community chats. The most long standing of these is IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Other tools like the Skype public chat I'm using for the Olympic Side Chat work too. I picked the Skype one because most of our community is comfortable with Skype and wouldn't need to figure out IRC. Skype also gives you consistent credentials, where IRC really doesn't. If you log out, someone can log in and take your name. There are other tools out there, including some great tools for Linux but overall, so far Skype seems to be the most ubiquitous.

The latest versions of Skype offer something very similar. You can create a public chat room and even advertise it if you want. You don't have to establish credentials with the others to join, either. You can easily just "jump in" and "jump out" when you want. It does have the idea of admins and access rights that can be open or closed, but open is fine for most of us.

What's your thought? How many people do you think would consider the idea of no longer using TWITTER as a chat room, but instead using it to say "I'm in the Domino Coffee Room" -- which is what Twitter was meant for? Is Skype a good choice?

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Dave A. on 08/12/2008 at 05:06 PM EDT
It is a dangerous path to start saying that people are using tools for purposes
other than what they were meant for.

The Internet wasn't "meant" for streaming video. or P2P networks.
TCP/IP wasn't "meant" to house 100 simultaneous connections so one person could
pirate movies faster.
Flickr wasn't originally "meant" to be a photo sharing site.
Google wasn't "meant" to be an advertising platform.
OS/2 wasn't "meant" to be a desktop operating system. OK, that is a bad
example... or at least an obscure one. :)

The point is... tools evolve as people find new ways to use them, or their
authors find new ways to enhance them. Ranting about inappropriate usage
stifles this kind of innovation.
Sure, maybe Twitter isn't the best tool. But if people are doing it, then it
must work acceptably to them.

To answer your direct question -- I would much rather use one inefficient tool
that already has an audience than add another tool, and use twitter just to
tell me to go start up tool #2.

Ok, but the fact that the tool is failing under the load?By Andrew Pollack on 08/12/2008 at 05:10 PM EDT
The way Twitter works, not only is it failing to meet the needs of a chat tool
(which it isn't), the use of it like one is killing it from a load
perspective. Its also annoying as hell to people who want to use it as it was

When the tools you're using are failing, its time for new tools.
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Chris Whisonant on 08/12/2008 at 05:11 PM EDT
Umm... this is why we have had a Sametime Advanced server on BleedYellow since
ST Advanced was GA.

Feel free to setup and promote a general chat room that can be accessed from
the sidebar in your Notes Client, from Sametime Connect, or through a browser.
I tried this Chris, for a couple of hours.By Andrew Pollack on 08/12/2008 at 05:40 PM EDT
I failed to make it work. That's why I picked Skype the other night. I even
enlisted Nate's help but its not on his plate and he had other things to do.
re: I tried this Chris, for a couple of hours.By Chris Whisonant on 08/12/2008 at 09:30 PM EDT
Interesting - I'm on there right now with no problems. Just found the Olympics
chat room and commented in there
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Nathan T. Freeman on 08/12/2008 at 05:19 PM EDT
I agree with you, Andrew, but I'll be stunned if you get anyone to change their

It's why I stopped using Twitter, though.
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Justin on 08/12/2008 at 05:30 PM EDT
I'm liking for chatting much more then twitter. Plurk let's you
comment like twitter, but then follow ups to each comment are tucked in under
the comment. The mobile display ( fits nicely in the notes
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Justin on 08/12/2008 at 05:35 PM EDT
And.........plurks down now, so much for showing it off to a new crowd......
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Yancy Lent on 08/12/2008 at 10:36 PM EDT
@Andrew, i just blogged about an idea i came up with while reading this post.
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Chris Blatnick on 08/12/2008 at 11:24 PM EDT
Manual Trackback:
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Alan Lepofsky on 08/13/2008 at 10:01 AM EDT
Interesting timing, as Jeremiah Owyang posts that one of his main uses of
Twitter is as a chat room.
re: The mis-use of Twitter as a chat room - and what to do about itBy Ben Rose on 08/13/2008 at 12:40 PM EDT
I thought Twitter was Ed Brill's RSS feed ;O)

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