Twitter is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and at first, it can be difficult to get your head around. So, before I try to make my point on Twitter, let me introduce you to IM-Bob and SMS-Alice:
How IMBob and SmsAlice got connected via Twitter
On the left you see IMBob. IMBob likes to be online all day. SmsAlice, on the right, is an outdoors girl: she’s always on the road.
Now IMBob would like to text-message SmsAlice. But he doesn’t like those tiny little phone buttons. So he fires up Google Talk(*) and adds email@example.com to his buddy list.
See how the conversation goes on the screenshot:
And here’s what Alice gets on her phone:
IMBob invited you to Twitter.com! Reply with your name, so we can get you set up! Standard text rates apply!
Her answer(***): “Sms Alice”
Awesome! Please reply with your preferred username!
Her anwser: “SmsAlice”
Welcome SmsAlice! Have your friends send “Follow SmsAlice” to 40404(****) to get your updates. Send Help to learn more.
Alice happens to know already about Twitter, so she sends the only thing necessary to actually get the messages: “ON”.
Notifications are on. Turn them off by sending OFF.
Now every time Bob IMs to firstname.lastname@example.org, Alice gets his message on her phone. And everytime she texts an answer, Bob gets to read it in his IM window.
All that without doing anything else then sending IM and text messages: no signup, nothing!
How IMBob and SmsAlice grew apart
Now Bob starts surfing around on Twitter.com and gets himself a lot of friends (yes, Yet Another Social Network for Bob!). Because he is on his laptop, reading and posting Tweets (that’s what these micro-postings are called) is really easy and quick. So he often replies on Tweets (fortunately he soon discovered how to use the “@” properly!). Bob likes to see his friends’ stream of consciousness pass by when he’s on the laptop. Sometimes he just thinks out loud himself on Twitter…
For Alice though, things are different. It’s not that she doesn’t like Twitter. In fact, she likes the fact she can subscribe to (and unsubscribe from!) all kinds of news updates and alerts without giving away her phone number to yet another company. Her phone and her phone number are something intimate to her, you know.
And yes, she wants to be updated on the whereabouts of some close friends and relatives. But getting the stream of links and ideas IMBob posts for his online Twitter friends doesn’t make sense via SMS… Even when receiving text messages is free (like with her and almost all mobile operators in Europe), it’s just too much time and hassle cleaning out her inbox on the phone. She’d rather limit herself to other people using text messages and doing that as sparingly as she herself does. So she sees no other option than unsubscribing (leaving!) IMBob on Twitter…
How IMBob and SmsAlice found a compromise
At least that is: in theory. If you send a direct message to someone who only uses Twitter via IM or the phone, you get the Abominable Twitter Kitten (and it has been like that for more than a month or so, I wonder whether the Twitter people really want to repair it):
So if IMBob wants to gets past the Abominable Twitter Kitten, Alice first needs to go to the web to complete her registration and get a web account as well. That’s all there is to! Now she gets Bob’s direct messages as she’s supposed to!
Oh and BTW, Twitter has these Phone & IM Settings where you can limit your notifications to “Direct Messages”:
That’s not what SmsAlice wants (because she wouldn’t be able to get the BBC Breaking News, remember) – but it could be a good idea for Bob if ever he was to leave his laptop behind for a while (if ever!).
How SmsAlice and IMBob happily Twittered along
So that’s how it went… IMBob kept sharing his thoughts behind the laptop and SmsAlice kept limiting her thumbs and attention to urgent and intimate tweets… and to a totally differenty circle of contacts than she would have had online. With the exception of IMBob’s occasional free computer-to sms direct messages, like we all used to do at the end of the nineties :-) *****.
Moral of the story
Although the Twitter idea is to blend phone and online, that is probably not true for most of us. We do have different contacts online and on the phone, different friends, different kinds of interaction, different social network.
Most of the Twitterers are IMBobs. Not because most people are more likely to be an IMBob than an SmsAlice (I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around) but because trends spread faster over the web – so the number of IMBobs grows faster. (And SmsAlices are less visible because they would probably want to hide their tweets from search engines!) .
But there probably is an IMBob and SmsAlice in each of us. So if you feel frustrated with your Twitter phone/IM dichotomy, just get a second account. After all you are a different person on the phone and online.
* Pictures from fictitious Bob and Alice: Striatic and Moriza via Creative-Commons searchengine Flickr-Storm.
** Could be any Jabber client. Or use TwitterIm when you’re on AIM
*** that would be 40404 in the US or +44 7781 488126 in Europe or most of the rest of the world
**** Yep, they forgot to internationalise that message :-)
***** There are still free web-to-sms services nowadays. Haven’t used them, do not know how they treat phone numbers…