There’s a fundamental disconnect, I’m afraid, in Twitter’s two user models. Twitter, no matter what you’re pushing out on it, can be used in two ways: narrowcast or broadcast. You’re either considering yourself to be a broadcaster of information, or you’re a narrowcaster and trying to hit just a few people. I think the main different would be whether your account is public or private, but it’s also in use.
I’m a narrowcasting person—sure, I “broadcast” information, but I usually try to keep specific folks in mind when I tweet. Most of the time, but not all, I ask, “Is this something I would phone a friend about?” The rare “broadcasting” I do is stuff like today, when I’m posting weather updates. Otherwise, my random ramblings of under 140 characters tend to be things that I’d tell my friends.
This is, of course, not the only way to use Twitter. Everyone has these conversations, at some level; but you can truly broadcast as things get aggregated. If a bunch of people tweet about an event—be it an Apple product launch, a weather/natural disaster, or the stock market—it shows up in tools that glean the chaff from Twitter.
We’re seeing the same thing that we saw with blogging—you were either doing it for personal or promotional reasons. To be honest, we’re all on some portion of that spectrum. But where I think feelings get hurt and people get riled up is when people who were sociable and narrowcast go to the broadcast end of the spectrum.
An example: my good friend Mark Traphagen. Mark’s a marketer. He went from the narrowcast model—sending things that he’d call his friends on the telephone about—to far more down the broadcast end of the spectrum. I think a lot of people are turned off by that; me, I quietly unfollowed Mark and then explained it when he emailed me about it. From reading between the tweets, I see that it’s a kerfuffle again today with a bunch of my RMFO friends, many of whom have said, of late, that Twitter has replaced the forum as their primary “hang” place.
And see, that’s the disconnect: we all tell our friends about things, like “Hey, the weather is bad in your area,” or “Yo, traffic is blocked on your drive home.” But when you’ve got this friend who’s calling you all the time to tell you about things that you’re not interested in, eventually, you stop answering the phone every time they call, right? On Twitter, you just stop following them. Sure, some people are going to take offense at that—after all, the following thing is public, and there’s tools like Twitual to show you who is and isn’t following you—and that’s understandable. There’s also different toolsets for reading Twitter, including some with grouping features that let you filter incoming stuff.
The point is this: everyone’s use case is different. I add and remove feeds all the time for my own needs, and the only difference is that I don’t make that list public, whereas Twitter does make that public. Twitter does that, I think, to push people to be more social/narrowcasted with their service. A lot of my friends—and me!—use it this way. But it’s so arrogant to tell Mark, “You’re doing it wrong!”
Again, to quote Rands, you choose who you follow. That’s it. Twitter is totally an opt-in system. If you feel spammed, stop.
[And this is where I again wonder why anyone reads what I tweet if they don’t know me. Because, well, I vent and it’s craaaaazy.]