Where I Think Twitter Falls Short

13 May

(Apologies… I realize this is a ridiculously long blog post!)

Of all the digital Communities of Practice (CoP) in which I participate, I rank Twitter last in terms of the ability to start a conversation.

This past January, even before I was assigned Twitter as homework, I decided to give Twitter another chance.  I felt like I sucked at tweeting because nobody ever commented on what I posted.  So, in a last ditch effort to force a conversation, I tweeted the following:

I waited… and waited… and waited.  Crickets.   Nobody replied.  Granted, I wasn’t following that many people, but it was still very disheartening that nobody offered any suggestions.  So much for “social coparticiatpion” (Adkins & Carter, 1996) in this community of practice.

I kept with it, though, and decided there must be another way I could learn to be literate on Twitter.  I felt fairly proficient with Facebook and LinkedIn, so maybe I could build off what I already knew about how to communicate in those situations which, for my fellow adult learning compadres, is an idea known as schema theory.

My first tactic was to reply to posts from people I’m following, something I do often on Facebook.  I started with my sister, figuring family ties would increase my chances for success.  She tweeted about a Twitter webinar she attended:

Unfortunately, that was the end of the “conversation” on Twitter.  I did eventually find out what was so great about the webinar the next time I spoke with my sister on the phone, but it seemed that replying directly to a tweet, did not facilitate an exchange online.

I also tried sharing links to interesting news items about people I have worked with – as I do LinkedIn – with short endorsements to entice people to view the links.  This, too, failed to spark any conversation.

Still not wanting to admit defeat, I kept hoping that I might learn by keeping myself in the game and watching how others played.  Put another way for those of you who prefer academic terms, I continued on in hopes of learning by socially constructing my knowledge.

When we started tweeting for homework this semester, I was excited about the possibility of having actual conversations on Twitter.  Even though our class would constitute a relatively small CoP, we would, in theory, be able to “create knowledge and shared ways of knowing through [our] actions” (Adkins & Carter, 1996).  While I have to admit I’ve had more “conversations” on Twitter in the past few months, I still feel that Twitter is an ineffective tool for true dialogue for the following reasons:

  1. The artificial 140 character limit on your tweets,
  2. The disjointed nature of the Twitter feed, and
  3. The comparatively short length of the average Twitter session.

Character Limit
Call me old-fashioned, but my idea of a conversation is not “Yo! Wazzup?”  “Not much… how you?”  “Good… whatcha doing?”  “Nothing… you?”  “Nothing.. I’m bored.”  “Me too.”  While this exchange may fill some social connection for the younger generation, it fails to have any “communicative efficacy.”  On several occasions I have been confounded by Twitter for not allowing me to post something I felt would surely have great communicative efficacy – or at least get people thinking – only to find that the length of my message exceeded 140 characters.

The first time was when I tried to tweet a quote from Severn Duvall, my favorite undergraduate professor, that seemed to capture the epitome of what we’d been talking about this semester in terms of education as a tool for reflection and what Edmund Husserl called “making the familiar strange.”

We will encourage the student to reconsider the old familiar patterns . . . Indeed, we will encourage them to scrutinize unexamined presuppositions of their selves and their world. . . . Education is, after all, a radical act in the rudimentary sense of the word. As student and teacher alike, we go back and try to re-examine.

Since I felt that cutting anything out of the quote would take away from the message, and adding anything to put the quote in context was impossible, I ended up not sharing this with the #adlt650 community online.

A similar situation happened when I read a post on Facebook from Dialogue Education – Training & Consulting by Global Learning Partners:

Who is Twitter to decide that these words of wisdom are too long!  Instead, I shared this on my Facebook page where I could not only share Freire words in their entirety, but I could also add the comment “THIS [original emphasis] is why I am working toward my M.Ed. in Adult Education.”   Within hours, I had several “likes” and a comment from a former colleague.

Disjointed Tweet Feed
I have never been able to install TweetDeck successfully.  Every time I get to the Add Account step, I get a blank screen.  I don’t know if my experience with the disjointed tweet feed would have been different had I been using TweetDeck, but I believe my arguments are still valid, given that Twitter is the digital community and should be able to facilitate good communication on its own.

When someone who is following me comments on one of my tweets or tags me in a tweet, I see that in my tweet feed, but it is not easily connected to the entire conversation.  For example, when @blaziak tweeted:

I had to click View conversation to see that she was replying to a tweet @HGradclass had posted earlier that day:

But this entire exchange was completely disconnected from the tweet that started it three days earlier which was:

In contrast, when a conversation on Facebook spans multiple days, all the related comments show up together in a cohesive unit:

Length of Average Twitter Session
The third factor that I believe causes Twitter to stifle conversation, in conjunction with the previously discussed issues, is the comparatively short period of time people dedicate to Twitter versus other social media outlets.  According to this chart sourced from, time spent on Twitter pales in comparison to time spent on other social networking sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook.

In addition to this short attention span of users on Twitter, the staying power of any one tweet is relatively short.  According to a study by, “The half-life of a link posted to Twitter is about 2.8 hours.”  For someone like me who (*gasp*) does not check Twitter in real-time, that means I probably miss out on a lot of good stuff.

Being literate on Twitter – in terms of being able to participate in the conversation – seems to involve more than making meaning of the text and images presented in a social-contextual manner.  Going back to Twitter’s original concept of being a mobile status update service, accessibility in the moment is an advantage for users who have immediate access via a smart phone or other mobile device.

Still Not Giving Up
Twitter continues to be a part of my online presence, but more so as a resource to access information than as a place for conversation.  I lurk on the sidelines in what Lave and Wenger call legitimate peripheral participation as I strive to be a more active and literate member of this digital online community.

Image adapted from “13 Ways to Create a Cringeworthy Social Media Presence,” by C. Eridon.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 13, 2012 in ADLT 650


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