The Paradox of Twitter

By Robert Wright

Katie Heaney at BuzzFeed has written a funny (in the good sense) piece called "11 Ways You're Annoying on Twitter."

Maybe the most predictable of the 11 ways to annoy people is "Tweet about food." Indeed, few things so fill me with ambivalence about following someone on Twitter as when they share the quotidian details of their lives--their food, their kids, their dogs--as if someone other than them cared.

But here's the thing: Someone other than them does care. There are journalists, writers and other notables (sadly not including me) whose followers are so ardent that they enjoy living vicariously with the object of their ardor. They just can't hear enough about the food, the kids, the dogs.

This gets at what seems to me the strange and challenging thing about Twitter: It's a dual-use technology, and it's hard to reconcile the two uses. If you're, say, a prominent journalist, you can use Twitter to communicate with your colleagues, or you can use it to communicate with your non-journalist readers (who in some cases might feel an ardor that qualifies them as "fans"). But the colleague talk can get opaquely insiderish (and is often conducted without the URLs and other educational supplements that could assist the uninitiated). And the fan talk--the food, the kids, the dogs--is a burden to colleagues.

My sense is that ultimately people with a big fan base have to make a choice: they think of their audience as either peers or as fans. But if any of you follow people on Twitter who you think do a good job of having it both ways, feel free, in the comments section below, to mention them and/or isolate the secrets of their success.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/the-paradox-of-twitter/257210/