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Babbling about Twitter & Microblogging

danah boyd points to a study of Twitter usage by PearAnalytics, that concludes:

40.55% of the tweets they coded are pointless babble; 37.55% are conversational; 8.7% have “pass along value”; 5.85% are self-promotional; 3.75% are spam; and ::gasp:: only 3.6% are news.”

As danah boyd suggests in her first sentence, studies like this are irritating. Every time someone complains about Twitter, or microblogging, blogging, or the web or anything else being overrun with “useless” information, I always have the same reaction: you could say the same thing about talking, but no one ever questions whether talking is useful or not.

These are means of communication, used by humans to communicate, each with their own idiosyncrasies, but all driven by the same impulses that have always driven humans to communicate: the urge to connect, to find, to babble, to sell, to buy, to share, to romance, to complain, etc etc etc…

Twitter, or microblogging in general, will bring profound changes to some of its users (it has for me) in how they find/consume/interact with information and other people. As did the printing press, ballpoint pen, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, email, blogs, youtube, mobile phone .. etc.

The interesting question is how these things change our informational & social interactions; but the question of whether or not these “new” tools are “good” or “valuable” are moot: if people use them, they use them because they find them good & valuable for whatever reason.

Humans have been pretty consistent in flaws and virtues over the past few thousand years; amazingly we still seem to be surprised when new tools of communication come along and display, in a new way, those same old flaws and virtues.


  1. Chris Hughes Chris Hughes 2009-08-16

    Absolutely agree. If anyone was to listen in on a conversation between me and some friends on a bus, almost all of it would qualify to an outsider as worthless babble. Much of it would not conform to standard grammar either.

    If another passenger were to point this out, I would point out that I was not talking to them: they were not required to listen. So with Twitter. It is a public space, but conversations are often still directed at those who we care about, for whom the information, ‘Had a great cup of coffee’ is actually interesting and meaningful.

    Heck, I would argue that the more meaningful the relationship, the more meaningless the conversations.

  2. Matt Etlinger Matt Etlinger 2009-09-03

    Hey Hugh, I read your post on the Huffington Post about Twitter and pointless babble-I think as long as a human or a mircroblogging web service asks what are you doing?, I think you will get what a lot of people what classify as pointless babble. I live in NY, but my Boulder based startup, just launched and it is kind of a topic-centric Twitter. Its a social network devoted to conversations that matter, that are relevant. Check it out.

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