Twitter is not micro-blogging

Twitter is often described as a micro-blogging platform. Twitter posts and like blog posts, except they’re limited to 140 characters (so they fit in a cell phone text message). You subscribe to Twitter posts (called “tweets”) sorta like you subscribe to a blog. Some people, like Kathy Sierra, do use Twitter for micro-blogging. Her tweets are little self-contained messages, often one sentence. Here’s a recent example:

Much as I liked Outliers, makes me cringe to see people focus on “it’s all luck/chance” rather than the “it takes 10,000 hours” part.

Nice observation, all in 133 characters. (She’s talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. He argues that success is a matter of accumulated lucky advantages plus around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.)

Maybe the most common form of micro-blogging is link sharing. Here’s an example, again from Kathy Sierra.

…and for those whose head literally explodes over misuse of the word “literally”

Some people use Twitter as a question-and-answer forum. This is sorta like blogging and inviting comments, and it can be very powerful.

But a lot of traffic on Twitter is not what I’d consider micro-blogging.  It’s more like a public form of instant messaging. I found this disorienting when I first started using Twitter. Who are they talking to? Context?! Why would I want everyone to see my instant messages? I suppose it’s an acquired taste.

Everyone on Twitter has some mixture of micro-blogging, Q&A, and instant messaging. Some people love the instant messaging-style conversations. To each his own. My preferred mix is weighted toward micro-blogging and Q&A.

I’m on Twitter at @johndcook.

Update (29 March 2010): It’s been more than a year since I first wrote this post. I now use the instant messaging aspect of Twitter a little more than I did then, though I still prefer the micro-blogging aspect. And I’ve created several daily tip accounts that are pure microblogs.

4 thoughts on “Twitter is not micro-blogging

  1. John, thanks for your thoughts about Twitter. As you already know, we have both been on Twitter for a while, albeit a short while for me. I try to keep a sort of micro-blog about the topic of my blog at my Twitter account (blog and Twitter in German only) which is really designed as a small blog I use for notes between entries to my blog.

    I think micro-blogging is just in its very beginning, people are playing around with the possibilities it poses.

    BTW, there is still one more kind of twittering you didn’t mention, viz. RSS feeds of newspapers or companies relayed to Twitter.

    Twitter’s much smaller counterpart offers the opportunity to create groups on a topic to discuss. Of course ;-) I could not resist to found a group on TeX and Friends which you can find at . I’m interested in which direction these new services will develop to.

    I think the public timeline in is sometimes rather interesting. I follow it in twhirl.

    BTW, I received a hint to this blog entry … via Twitter. ;-)

    Best, Jürgen.

  2. Good points. It’s like a chat room or collective IM where members are blocked by default (you have to follow or be followed) instead of visible by default. And where the “rooms” aren’t separate circles where everyone is in or out, but overlapping where each of us has our own circle which can partially overlap or not overlap other “room” circles.

    Ok fine. Twitter isn’t micro-blogging. But then what is?

  3. I cannot get the hang of Twitter. I have too much need for elucidations.

    (Of course, the above would have made an excellent tweet.)

  4. There are two more point I would like to mention. First, Twitter is a bit of everything. It has been compared with IRC and IM, but it also has features that are more like good old usenet newsgroups because there are archives on the web retaining all tweets ever made, even those you have cancelled. There are also some elements of simple email in Twitter because you can send direct messages — but only to those following your tweets, not to everyone out there.

    But then, as opposed to the old web 1.0 channels, Twitter is very much a place marketing pros want to take over: there’s a lot of activity there from their part already. Other providers such as, e.g., are less prone to become just another public relations channel for purely commercial and political purposes. With the federeral elections in Germany due this fall, political parties have studied Barack Obama’s campaign on Twitter which they now try to copy. It’s a cheap and effective way to communicate with your followers.

    Finally, Micro-blogging Conference in Hamburg is held since yesterday till 1700 UTC today. You can follow livestream at Some discussions and talks held there are in German, some are in English.

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