Twitter Solves the Chat Usability Problem

tech 0 comments suggest edit

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

  1. 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.

Found a typo or error? Suggest an edit! If accepted, your contribution is listed automatically here.



7 responses

  1. Avatar for The Other Steve
    The Other Steve June 2nd, 2007

    Back before IM there was zephyr from the Athena Project at MIT. zephyr had channels. You could subscribe to a channel, and when someone sent an IM to it, it would broadcast out.
    That's something that has been missing from most IM packages I've seen since. IM allows you to invite your friends if they are online, but it doesn't allow you to just quickly broadcast something out to you friends, and the ones who are online get the message.
    It sounds like this twitter is kind of like that?

  2. Avatar for CodeClimber
    CodeClimber June 3rd, 2007


  3. Avatar for Nicholas Paldino [.NET/C# MVP]
    Nicholas Paldino [.NET/C# MVP] June 13th, 2007

    While it is true that Twitter solves these problems, and it is interesting from that point of view, I find Twitter to be almost completely worthless, in that I really don't need to be innundated with that kind of minutae.
    I mean, what is the real-world problem here? The technical problems have been overcome, but was there ever really an issue with me not knowing that you jumped into the shower this morning, or that you used a double knot for your shoes as opposed to a single knot?
    If that's a problem, then the world is in a sad sad state.
    It works great if you have pre-existing connections with people and this technology enables the group to become more tightly knit, but I see nothing about it which helps to enable new communities.
    Which leads to the part about noise... I really don't htink that this helps with reducing noise levels. If anything, it enables them by making the person feel more important in relation to all the others by focusing the channels on them.

  4. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked June 14th, 2007

    @Nicholas - Well nobody is forcing Twitter'ers to write about jumping in the shower. You might see some of that in the public timeline, but the public timeline is not where the value lies in Twitter.
    You can choose which friends to follow and which ones to allow following you, creating a private timeline. You don't have to listen in on the public timeline. You have the power to shape your Twitter community.
    Thus the value in Twitter is proportionate to the quality of your Twitter community.
    For example, my friends don't generally write about tying shoelaces. Instead, it's more like a running chat commentary often with clever wit and interesting links.
    The other thing I recommend is to turn off the *ping* noise. Just read through your Twitters when you're taking a break to avoid the continuous partial attention effect.

  5. Avatar for Jon Galloway
    Jon Galloway June 25th, 2007

    Twitter is Good Enough Twitter drives all my tech-savvy friends crazy. We all agree that the idea - a

  6. Avatar for Matt Ellsworth
    Matt Ellsworth December 19th, 2007

    I like twitter some what - but not really for a conversation. To me its more about sharing random blurbs and stuff. For an actual conversation I prefer IM/email/ etc.

  7. Avatar for David
    David May 7th, 2008

    I feel the same as Matt. I'd rather use IM/email for chatting and twitter for posting random stuff. I'm one of those people who would post something stupid to twitter about jumping in the shower or seeing old ladies in high platform shoes with pomeranian pooch hairdoos.