Why Twitter will get more annoying

By Felix Salmon
March 22, 2012
sixth birthday, Twitter!

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Happy sixth birthday, Twitter! You’re the service which started off as a way for groups of friends to keep in touch with each other via text messages, and you’ve grown into a revolutionary platform for connecting and sharing with millions of people around the world.

And you’ve become more annoying, too.

For most of its history, Twitter was disliked overwhelmingly by people who weren’t on it, rather than people who were. It wasn’t enough not to join; if you weren’t on it, you had to kvetch incessantly about how you weren’t interested in what other people were eating for breakfast.

I’ve noticed a change, though, in the past year. The people who used to complain the most about Twitter have either capitulated and joined, or else they’ve quietened down — at least they know, now, how infrequently anybody tweets about what they are eating for breakfast. And now the primary source of complaints about Twitter is coming from people on Twitter, rather than off it.

During SXSW, for instance, there was a steady drumbeat of people on my timeline complaining about all the tweets from SXSW. (I was there, and even I got annoyed by the endless banal SXSW tweets; I’m sympathetic to their plight.)

We’re going to have to live with many more annoying tweets going forwards, if things like Amex’s “tweet your way to savings” campaign take off. The VentureBeat headline is “American Express transforms Twitter hashtags into savings for cardholders,” but another way to put it is that American Express is trying to make money by getting people to spam their friends with hashtags like #AmexWholeFoods which have no value to the reader whatsoever.

And then there are people like Porter Versfelt III, who will get annoyed if I dare to express a personal opinion on Twitter. For Mr Versfelt, I have a “core purpose” on Twitter, which is to provide him with financial news, and anything I do outside that purpose is annoying.

Going forwards, all of us are going to find Twitter increasingly annoying. The company has been in hyper-growth mode up until now, getting to its current astonishing scale. But it’s now getting serious about making money, which means selling us, the users, to people willing to pay lots of money to work their way into our timelines one way or another.

On top of that, Twitter is increasingly going to be a medium for following people you don’t know, rather than people you do. When that happens, it’s much easier to get annoyed at what they’re tweeting, especially when those tweets are somewhat personal in nature (check-ins, photographs, that kind of thing). We neither can nor should try to stop people from tweeting whatever they want — the way that Twitter works, if you don’t want to read someone’s tweets, that’s easy, just stop following them. But at the same time, nearly everybody’s follower count is rising steadily, and as one’s follower count goes up, the more that Twitter becomes a broadcast medium rather than a medium of conversation. And when you become a broadcaster, you have to be more careful about what you say, or risk annoying a large number of people.

Twitter’s still in its honeymoon period, but that won’t last forever. At some point, it’s going to be less of a wunderkammer, and more of a regrettable necessity. Which is probably the point at which it’s going to finally start making some real money.


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“Which is probably the point at which it’s going to finally start making some real money.”

Why, because people like getting spam?

Twitter still hasn’t figured out how to sell ads in 140 character messages, so it sells things like “promoted tweets”, which are just spam. I get a kick out of people who complain about email, but don’t mind the 99% of twitter that is noise.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

I finally figured it out: Twitter is for voyeurs, lurkers and the self-important.

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

It only takes one click to unfollow an account, you know. That’s my motto when it comes to Twitter :)

Posted by maemae | Report as abusive

I’ll definitely tweet the article:)

Posted by Sedunova | Report as abusive

Shredded Wheat, sliced bananas, milk and sugar.

Posted by andilinks | Report as abusive

Shredded Wheat, sliced bananas, milk and sugar.

Posted by andilinks | Report as abusive

i quit that & facebook two years ago…cant annoy you if you ignore it…

Posted by rjs0 | Report as abusive

Great article. I have noticed a shift in people’s opinions of Twitter and the point of being on it.its a great tool for communicating with friends and work colleagues. I have also found out important news events first via Twitter before the main news channels which is great. It does have its downsides though and the main one for me is it can be a platform for some people to shout out their racist thoughts and describe where certain people should go in a very distastful way. Hats off though to the people of Twitter, and it has come a long way since I joined back in 2008. I hope it does not become a giant advertising board for companies, and stays true to its original form as being a communication tool for the people.


Posted by Medtechcerb | Report as abusive

Managing flow, for all kinds of people, is the big problem for social services, and neither Twitter nor Facebook do it particularly well. What services will we be using in 6 years time?

Posted by AngryInCali | Report as abusive

I use twitter for the news of the world, rather it is business, actual news source, latest in the commercial world and some gossip on the stars. I use the twitter for the political news as I get more opinions on the topic. Also, I keep my personal things I do out of it.

Posted by Susanbsbi | Report as abusive

Twitter allows for up to date material, but it is ephemeral. Few people track back through days of tweets to find the information so there is a lot of rebroadcasting of informnation. Also, the search for meaning is missing in 140 characters so people have to link to other sources. Twitter itself is morphing and, in some ways, becoming secondary to the applications that rely upon it and allow it be leveraged into something that can be used to make money ie such things as hootsuite or other twitterfeed systems. Twitter is rarely a point for conversation so much as an exchange. As yet, there is no social media site for discussions. Perhaps that is the next big thing.

Posted by LWSerewicz | Report as abusive

I find Twitter more interesting than Facebook these days, which I’m finding increasingly more annoying. Before that, I found MySpace annoying. Anyone else see a pattern here?

Posted by rsmithing | Report as abusive

I found it annoying that the twitter website employs sonmany redirects that I had to rapidly hit BACK five times in order to get back to your post after following your link to it.

Also, what look to be “related tweets” displayed underneath employ so many @, #, and hyper-shortened names that they look more like bad code than human-readable strings.

Posted by DCWright | Report as abusive

I still have yet to find a compelling reason to check Twitter more than once every couple of weeks. It’s really only something that I open after I’ve exhausted all of the other websites that I usually frequent. And as DCWright pointed out, it’s a complete mess of hashtags and hyperlinks.

No one I know personally has more than 1 or 2 tweets to their account which are usually something like “Hey I’m on Twitter now!!”. And I don’t use it at all for news as RSS feeds seem to be much more useful and readable. So six years later and I’m still asking for someone to show me why it’s such a great technological innovation other than the fact that it’s a great vehicle for spam.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

Hey Felix, thanks so much for mentioning me in your blog.

The reason that I tweeted Wednesday evening about your “core purpose” being “… to provide him (me) with financial news …” was because the public description of your Twitter account is this:

“Felix Salmon is the finance blogger at Reuters.”

Your tweets about the Treyvon Martin shooting incident in Florida had absolutely nothing to do with the financial world in my opinion. As a journalist of some 30 years of experience, I DO find journalists who interject personal editorialization into their work as, yes … annoying. ;)

I never tweeted that YOU were “annoying, by the way, as your blog here hints at. :)

So thanks for the free publicity sir. This is a first in my brief Twitterverse career. I now consider myself a Twitter “professional” now that a Reuters reporter has taken the time and effort to present me to the world as someone who annoys him. :)

Porter Versfelt III
Versfelt Communications Group
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Posted by vcgtv | Report as abusive

But if twitter disappears where are journalists going to be able to cut and paste from?

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

If Porter doesn’t like your random tweeting, he can unfollow you. If you don’t like his complaining about your random tweeting, you can block HIM. Problem solved.

As for the sponsored tweets and hashtags, they can amount to a minor annoyance, but they are also an opportunity. If I get a sponsored tweet from a corporation I don’t like, I take advantage of it and block them. Not exactly the reaction they wanted, and I suspect I’m not the only one to do so. Recently, McDonalds started a promoted hashtag, presumably to get eager customers to say nice things about their restaurants, and it went sadly awry, with many people making uncomplimentary remarks about the quality of the food or its nutritional and caloric problems. Oops. Probably won’t repeat that error any time soon. Again, its fairly easy to make the tweet or hashtag or promoted twitter handle account go away, or wish they had gone away.

As for being more a way to meet people you don’t know than keep in touch with people you do, I suspect women see more value in that than men do. I love being able to find others who share my interests, my politics, my hobbies, but don’t happen to live near me, and whom I never met before. I’ve made real friends that way, and I know many people, close and far, who’ve made real friendships online that became real friendships in the real world, with meet ups, social activities, etc.

Its a support mechanism, as well as a social mechanism. Several of us banded together to help one person who was having panic attacks because of some stuff happening in her personal life. She didn’t want to bother and call anyone, but she was literally panicked, hyperventilating, on more than one occasion. The group of us were already on twitter at the times these panick attacks tended to happen, so we would band together to help her get thru it, have her breathe in a bag when necessary, check when she had taken her meds, follow up on her afterward, help her calm down. That is not the first or the last time people have been able to reach out and help others, make friends, etc.

Posted by AmazingDisgrace | Report as abusive

As much as I enjoy Twitter, I have to agree to some extent that it’s becoming more annoying. I find that there’s a divide between the people who are still using Twitter as a micro-blog to share their personal thoughts and concerns and the people who are capitalizing (or at least attempting to) on it’s marketing potential. Either way, Twitter and the ‘etiquette’ that goes along with it are bound to change.

Posted by ddeloss4 | Report as abusive

Dear Felix Salmon

Went through your article and it sound like a ranting against Twitter without any real data and facts and analyzing the fact.
Don’t know what personal vendetta you have against Twitter or when Twitter has hit you very hard but at-least as a journalist you should take a unbiased view.
Why Twitter is not annoying?
1-If I want to follow some one I will follow and If I don’t want then I will unfollow them.
2- Every one who is joining Twitter, they are not Salmon Felix working for Reuters. It is their right to write what they think.

3-Twitter is far more democratic in Nature.
4-You clearly have no understanding of the architecture of Twitter which is very straight and Open. The choice is your that what you want to read and what not.
5-Believe me you have been already sold thousand of times and Twitter selling will be another addition.

6- Your article is appears more like a news which people write to cultivate a view against a particular subject without any reason.
7- is this news a PR News?

Thanks. http://www.vieathink.com

Posted by videathink.com | Report as abusive

I think the Amex campaign should have everyone worried. Twitter needs to make money and they’re trying to get creative, but I still feel even promoted tweets with actual “good” content vs. just “tweet to get this deal” can have both commercial and editorial value.

Also think how an influencer like Felix Salmon experiences Twitter is very different than people like the rest of us does. I still get excited about retweets and mentions, I still appreciate getting new followers, and I still get a tremendous amount of valuable information from people I don’t know but that I respect, every day.

Posted by asaramis | Report as abusive