Blogs vs Twitter? It’s the Interactivity

In a  post that appeared remarkably soon after my last post in which I noted that I am easier to find on Twitter than on Online Fandom these days, Rob Walker of Murketing and Buying In fame, expressed “Nostalgia for Blogs” and lamented:

I checked the Twitter feed and it was, of course, far less substantial than the blog had been. In fact I didn’t seen a single tweet of interest, whereas this person’s earlier blog posts had been, with some regularity, worth a look. If I don’t “follow” this person, I miss the possibility of some future interesting tweet — at least a link I would have missed, something.On the other hand, if I do follow, I clearly have to wade through a bunch of garbage. The signal-to-noise ratio will clearly be way worse than it had been on the now-dying blog. I’m interested in this person’s thinking — but I’m not that interested.

I wouldn’t want to presume he’s talking about me*, but either way, I’ve got some thoughts.

I agree with him that blogs are (sometimes) more substantial and I think reports of the death of blogs due to Twitter and Facebook are wrong. For me blogging has been a great way to collect and share thoughts on a particular issue, to collect ideas for future longer projects, and to create a public persona as an expert with something to say about the topics I know a lot about. I like to think the blog has been useful to people I wouldn’t otherwise get to communicate with. I’ve come into contact with many people, especially those on the ground addressing the issues I write about here, through this blog. Blogging has been and I hope it will continue to be great. It also takes a lot of time to get a post to what I want it to be before I post it.

But that said, I think Walker’s characterization misses the point on a few scores.

1) Twitter isn’t a substitute for blogging. Some people may choose to Twitter instead of blogging, but I wouldn’t assume that anyone has that kind of either/or relationship. A tweet is not meant to accomplish what a blog post is meant to accomplish. Neither’s killing the other, they aren’t in competition anymore than, oh, say writing books vs. writing a blog.

2) People like Twitterers’ minutia. In my case, though we’re not talking big numbers either way, more people follow me on Twitter than subscribe to this blog. One man’s garbage is another’s treasure, or entertainment, I guess. People — even smart thoughtful ones — actually LIKE the mix of links, random thoughts, and bits of daily life. They LIKE watching the person, not the topic. I know I do. I find Twitterers who stick to posts about their one professional interest boring. Other people love them, and more power to them. I don’t. IMHO, that’s what blogs are for. If you come to Twitter looking for ideas about a topic, you’re better off watching Twitter trends and searching keywords than following individuals; Twitter usually offers great topical coverage only in the aggregate.

3) Looking at a Twitter feed or profile isn’t the same as following someone on Twitter. People who don’t actually use Twitter think that you have to read all the tweets that are directed specifically @someoneelse.  If you follow from within a Twitter account, there’s a setting so you don’t have to watch that banter unless it’s between people you also follow. That changes the signal/noise ratio  a lot. Yes, there will still be tweets you don’t care about, but let’s be honest, can you name a single blogger who posts only posts you find interesting? I sure can’t.

4) Twitter is about banter. That banter is the best part. I’ve written this blog for a few years and I’ve talked to lots of bloggers. Getting people to post comments is hard. Getting conversation going is harder. The majority of things I write here get no response at all. On Twitter I don’t get responses to everything I say, but I sure get a lot more fast feedback than I do here. It’s also a lot easier to make a quick response to someone else — much more so than commenting on a blog post, especially if, like me, you read your blogs through an RSS reader. That back and forth makes me want to keep participating in Twitter. In comparison, blogging feels like a solitary endevour.

5) Twitter is temporal and cumulative. I made this mistake myself; it’s not until some time after you’ve decided to take Twitter seriously and made it part of the ritual of daily life that you really get it. If you check out someone’s feed, you can get a sense of whether they’re interesting to you, but it’s not until you live with someone’s tweets day in and day out that you know whether the rhythms and content of their messages are going to be rewarding or not. It’s not like a blog where you can read all the archives and get pretty much the full effect. On Twitter, it’s what happens interactively amongst the twitterers over the long haul in real time that makes it interesting.

6) Twitter is a great site for language play. The 140 character limit is a fun challenge for wordsmiths, and those who do it well are joys to read. As a genre, insamuch as it is a genre, the language of Twitter is just way more fun than the language of blogs.

7) Ugh. Can we just quit judging every new mode of communication that comes along and finding it wanting in comparison to the last one? Haven’t we been doing that for millenia? Don’t we always look back later and feel kind of silly?

Don’t like Twitter? Don’t use it! Disappointed someone’s blogging less? Encourage them to keep on blogging by letting them know how much you appreciate the volunteer work they do through blogging. But don’t be disappointed because people don’t twitter how you want them to blog. That just doesn’t make sense.

* Update 03/09/09: Rob has assured me since this was posted that he wasn’t.

Comments (9) to “Blogs vs Twitter? It’s the Interactivity”

  1. Hey, here’s a comment! I agree completely – both as someone who uses twitter a lot and blogs; I get few comments (most of them spam) on the blog in comparison to just posting links on twitter. I was always bemused by the folks who characterized blogging as “community” and “conversation” – it’s a rare few bloggers who get that in their comment feeds.

  2. Totally agree with the fact that Twitter DOESNT REPLACE blogging. I think Twitter functions as a ‘headline’ (of something interesting) while Blogs do the “body” (to read more about what’s so interesting about that something). Twitter complements blogs. They certainly dont replace it. I, too, get sick and tired of people who go around saying “Ooh…Twitter is soo today! Blogs are outta the window! Yesterday’s news!”

    That is so not true, and many-a-time, I want to give them a whack on the head. No doubt Twitter has garnered a bit of a stronghold in the online atmosphere, but it definitely isn’t the only “in-thing” out there in the world of online communications.

    Ok, Im done with ranting for today.

  3. Nancy–you saw Pitts op-ed in the LJW last week on the Twitter and confessional culture? An odd confluence of our two research agendas.

    PS: I am still unclear on what, precisely, twitter is.

    PS2: the death of blogs? I hadn’t heard. But as you have no doubt heard, author’s are dead too, and that hasn’t had much of an impact. So I’m not too worried.

  4. In no way shape or form is Twitter even trying to replace the blog. If anything Twitter should be used as a writer’s marketing function to better expose their site or column. Blogging is still a forum utilized to voice an opinion on a subject, therefore, will not literally die off as projected. Social networks must encourage the blog as a type of personal outlet of artist freedom found on the web. Take eZanga’s for example. Not only are they encouraging member content, but they are rewarding their members for it. Their user generated content allots a specific number of points that can be traded in for prizes, cash, and gift cards

  5. Uh oh — do I walk down the hall to talk to you face to face Dave or respond here? I did see Pitts’s column, which I found unusually shallow for him and which demonstrated a totally predictable stereotypical outsider take on Twitter. Last week there were so many editorials, articles and even comics (Doonesbury!) took on Twitter and almost all with the same not even close to insightful analysis that it’s banal.

  6. I also agree that twitter doesn’t replace blogs and instead serves to increase their exposure. As you said, following someone’s twitter stream day to day helps you to get to know them and if they write a blog, I’m much more likely to read their posts because I “know” them through twitter. There are a number of blogs that I read now, or at least individual posts, that I never would have found independently (such as this one). I think the two certainly complement each other, and I look forward to seeing how that continues!

  7. BANG ON! I’m so tired of the constant complaints about twitter. Oi!

  8. I find them complementary.

    I use twitter as an intelligent RSS headline feed, assuming interesting writers will write interesting intros to their blogs. It tells me which blogs to read.

    I try to tweet the same way, giving people fast-search entree to what I believe will be of interest to those who have chosen to follow the “brand” I’m creating.

  9. I fully agree with the complementarity. It may even help to get blogging beyond the hype. (like phoning is not a hype, you just use it..). The capacity to reciprocate is much higher in twitter. when someone wants to follow me, I follow them back. But in my blog I don’t know who is reading and why.