Wasteful Widgets #2: Twitter Feeds, and 7 Reasons to Eschew Them

Many websites have a section in which their current Twitter conversation is shown. I've played around with this myself, and after some time decided that it was not something I wanted to continue with, for the following reasons.

Firstly, it just looks so ascetically awful on most websites. Maybe that's to do with broader issues, like the blog's template or the blog owner's design skills, but to my eye it usually just looks like a mess. In fact, there's one blog I checked out recently where the Twitter feed was so prominent that it took me a moment or two to work out where the actual latest article was.

When I tried it out I put it on a separate page on its own. That overcame the messiness problem, but it only served to emphasise my second objection.

It seems to me that Twitter is, fundamentally, a conversation, and that conversations take place within a context, especially a temporal context. To take a snapshot of a conversation -- which is itself taking it out of context -- and then put it somewhere else entirely, is surely a double whammy? How can that snippet of conversation be meaningful, except by pure chance?

Josie Fraser is making an effort to make her Twitter stream more meaningful, and it will be interesting to see how that works out, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thirdly, what's the point of it anyway? For me, the idea of Twitter as conversation is that I'd like people to converse with me, not look at what is, in effect, a transcript of a conversation I'm having.

The widget I tried out made matters worse because, for some reason, it showed only my side of the conversation. So you would see these disembodied pronouncements which, if anything, made me look like a complete moron. That leads me on to…

Fourthly, when I was trying it out, because I knew that the conversation, or my side of it at least, would appear on my website, I found myself starting to look over my shoulder at myself, which is physically impossible, I know, but hopefully you will get my drift. I would start to think, "How will this look to anyone who doesn't know me?", and so I began to think twice before I replied with LOL or "Oh no" or whatever. It placed an unnecessary and self-imposed block on my self-expression.

Even if all these objections could be overcome, there is a fifth one. This blog is entirely about ICT in education. Maybe that degree of nicheness makes me the most boring person on earth, but that's the way it is. In Twitter and other places, though, I have more wide-ranging conversations. Having those, or parts of them, appear on my blog would serve only to dilute it as far as I'm concerned.

You may argue that it would be nice to see a different side to me. I agree that it's always nice to see other dimensions of the people whose blogs we read. The answer is: follow me on Twitter! I'll probably follow you back, and we will both gain. Or read my other blog, where I write about anything and everything, when I find the time.

I can see that there may be some value in publishing a Twitter stream from a list you belong to, especially if it's a specialised list. But then, for me, there's another objection:

I don't know what the people I converse with are going to say. Most of them, most of the time, don't say anything which might embarrass me, but every so often one of them will swear or imply swearing. If they did so in a comment I would refuse to publish the comment, but I don't have that facility in publishing a Twitter stream (as far as I know). The swearing doesn't happen very often, but I don't want it to appear on my website at all.

Finally, this highlights a really important issue. I think one of the things we ought to be teaching young people, and demonstrating, is that we control the technology, or should do. By placing code on your website which puts you, in effect, at the mercy of anyone who, whether inadvertently or not, says something you'd rather not see under your name, you're modelling the exact opposite, ie the technology is in control while you are a passive bystander.

All things considered, I think that placing a Twitter stream on a website is definitely a solution to a problem. It's just that I haven't figured out the problem yet.