Twitter Solves the Chat Usability Problem

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Ok, this will be my last post on Twitter for the time being. My last two posts on the subject pointed out flaws with it, so I thought I’d follow up with something positive.

A lot of people just don’t get Twitter, dismissing it as hype. I was firmly in that camp until I tried it, and now am a total Twit (Twitter addict). This morning as I stepped into the shower, I was wondering why Twitter has such a hold. Jeff Atwood calls it the combination of blogging and IM. But I had this nagging feeling that I’ve used something like Twitter before. Then it hit me.

Twitter is no different from a chat room, but with better usability.

Searching the web, I found I’m not the first to compare Twitter to chat or IRC. But lets look at what problems with IRC and Chat that Twitter solves.

  • The Firewall Issue
  • The Channel Overload Issue
  • The Signal to Noise Ratio and Trolling
  • The conversation persistence problem

The Firewall Issue

Unlike IRC and many chat rooms back in the day, Twitter runs over port 80. Thus, it is less likely to be blocked by corporate and personal firewalls. The target here is ubuiquity and getting through the firewall is an important factor.

Channel Overload

I remember when I first started using IRC and then various chat rooms, I ran into the question of which, of the thousands and thousands of channels, should I join? In this case, too many choices causes a headache.

Twitter solves this problem by giving you one choice. Channel You. Public timeline aside, you have full control of who gets to see your tweets and whose tweets you wish to see. Twitter is a completely customized chat room.

Signal to Noise Ration and Trolling

The complete customization I just mentioned also helps solve the trolling problem I mentioned. If someone is being a nuisance, remove them from you friends list. You can allow only your friends to see your tweets you if you wish.

The Conversation Persistence Problem

I remember jumping into a chat room in the middle of a conversation and wondering, what the hell are they talking about? The fact that twitter keeps an ongoing archive makes it easy to back up and get caught up to where everyone else is in the conversation.

Now I know that over time, IRC and other Chat clients solved many of these same problems in one form or another. Twitter has solved them all in a compelling manner. It has the immediacy of IM with the public facing aspects of a blog, and the social interaction of a chat room.

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