#FLsocmed Week 1: Twitter, numbers and being sociable


It is the end of my first week on the Social Media Analytics MOOC delivered by the good folk at the Queensland University of Technology. I have learnt how to get started analysing the numbers behind tweets and hashtags and how to use Martin Hawksey’s TAGS, which prior to the course I had only unsuccessfully dabbled with. There was also a lot of reading and debate around current issues regarding research ethics of public data within the FutureLearn space. However, it is the final article of the week, ‘Twitter (probably) isn’t dying, but is it becoming less sociable?’ written in November 2015 by Jean Burgess, one of the course leads, which sparked this post.

Jean’s article was in turn a response to umair haque’s, Why Twitter’s Dying (And What You Can Learn From It). To summarise umair’s article he believes Twitter has become full of ‘ists’ such as journalists, economists etc and that the main problems are relentless abuse and the bombardment of news. Whilst, Jean as an early adopter has seen a significant decline in conversation over time. In essence they both surmise that Twitter has become a space for white noise.

As I am a double ‘ist’ being a technologist and an educationalist and a late adopter (joining in 2013) this doesn’t bode well for me on the face of it. I am unable to compare the sociable aspect prior to 2013 so can’t comment on their proposed decline of use and conversation but unlike Jean or umair I didn’t join Twitter primarily for sociable reasons, my driver was simply to learn which isn’t really discussed in either post. I enjoy reading articles and blogs relevant to my profession highlighted in Tweets, keeping me up to date and generating new ideas. Yes some articles may be news based but as I choose who to follow and which links to click I still feel that I am vaguely in control of my timeline. Also, I have a natural inclination to avoid controversy at all costs.

One of the reasons why I love MOOCs and platforms such as Twitter is the way they lead to connections and join up different conversations. Reading these two articles immediately brought to mind another recent post which had itself prompted another post. The first by Kerry Pinny, I am rubbish at Twitter is a heartfelt analysis of her use of Twitter and how it relates to her colleague’s (perceived) ideas of a successful user. James Clay reputes this with a rejoining No, I am rubbish at Twitter post were he concludes that actually ‘we are all rubbish on Twitter’ in an entirely positive sense. Surely everyone’s drivers/motivations are going to be different and that it is this diversity of human interaction that will dictate the success or failure of any open platform, not the platform itself.

Overall, long standing Twitter users may have seen a reduction in conversation but us newbies are still at the stage of building our networks and working to increase participation in conversations in a public sphere. And if our preference is to stay on the periphery and observe then all to the good. The choice is there.

The numbers of registered users are still increasing despite continuing functionality changes (the only gripe I have with the new heart button is that clicking on it on my mobile devices more often than not crashes the app). With increasing users comes increasing numbers of people to please and at any given time there is going to be a significant number who are unhappy with the changes and the developers have to balance existing users with potential new ones.

As with any digital, open platform training and raising awareness is key. Digital literacies need to be taught alongside traditional literacies. There are always going to be abusers and dealing with the issue is to some degree a human one not a technological one. There are many difficult issues that are not going to disappear overnight surrounding privacy, copyright, ownership, ethics and abusive behaviour to name a few. But should your local weatherman retweet a picture of a bright sunny landscape and it brings a smile to someone, somewhere (whether local or global, whether to hundreds or thousands) then surely that is a win?

So those of us who are utterly and totally rubbish at Twitter will hopefully keep going, maintaining the conversations and trying to put the world to right, whilst not forgetting our inane tweets on everything from coffee to shoes and as James encourages:

Go do Twitter and be rubbish at it.

3 thoughts on “#FLsocmed Week 1: Twitter, numbers and being sociable

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  1. As you still need to follow people on Twitter you are In control of how big your network is. You can largely ignore the ‘brands’ and ‘ists’ though with promoted tweets this may change.

  2. Thanks for the post Clare – I enjoyed reading it and it encouraged me to explore Jean and Umair’s posts more closely.
    I joined Twitter in 2008 which I think makes me a latish early adopter. Twitter has been a great space for me – for sociality and for information but I do sense that my satisfaction is declining a bit in the last year or so. I have even blogged about Twitter http://francesbell.com/tag/twitter/ But I am still there.
    Twitter isn’t fixed and we can tweak it by choosing who to follow and changing our settings – so all have our own Twitter. But we can’t necessarily have the Twitter we might like because that depends on what others do and what Twitter does by changing its code. And the need to ‘monetise’ drives Twitter just as much as Facebook, etc. For me, digital literacies should include informed critique of the platforms on which we practice our literacy.

    1. Hi Frances
      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Twitter posts last evening and the common themes emerging across time (however, knitting cutting sounded terrifying). I have scant knowledge about analytics and social network analysis in general which was the main driver for joining #FLsocmed. An added benefit has been reading the debates around the wider topic of social media and the many issues such as commercialisation and the ethics of open data use. As you say informed critique is an essential aspect of digital literacy so if Twitter no longer provides the best solution for open conversations I will seek out the best alternative – only time will tell.

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