I find the different uses of Twitter fascinating. The complexity of its use derives from its simplicity, people can take it and find their own mode of communication, rather than a specific usage being prescribed by it. So, if we take the over-used (by me anyway) metaphor of an ecosystem of technologies, Twitter is successful because it is highly adaptable, it can occupy different niches in the ecosystem.
In my last post I asked the question whether someone who had lots of followers but didn’t follow many was ‘misusing’ Twitter. I accept ‘misuse’ was the wrong word, since it implies there is a ‘correct’ use of Twitter, and of course people are free to use it anyway they like. As Alan Levine says in the comments, one should be wary of rules. What this led me to reflect on though was the various uses people have for Twitter. Over at Read/Write web they suggest three Twitter personalities: Listener (you follow more than follow you), Talker (you have more followers than you follow) and Hub (you have equal followers and followed). Incidentally, I really don’t like their ‘Twitter score’ – the number of followers divided by the number you follow, since this implies it’s ‘better’ not to follow people.
Their three personality types are useful, but it’s more complex than this. I’ve had a go at coming up with some other types of Twitter usage. This is just a way of thinking about how we use Twitter, not implying that people must conform to one of these types (see the point at the end).
- Twitter as added bonus – Stephen Downes says that he has Twitter followers (who get his Facebook updates), but doesn’t follow anyone. I’m one of Stephen’s ‘followers’, so although I know he doesn’t use Twitter much, it’s worthwhile following him just as part of my network. Stephen makes the point that he reads over 500 blogs and does lots of commenting/linking, so for him Twitter is a very small part of his ecosystem. It is an added bonus for the followers if they wish.
- Selective interaction – users with a large number of followers may choose to only follow a few people, but then use the @ reply function for interaction. For instance Will Richardson and David Warlick both have in excess of 1000 followers, because they are prominent edubloggers. Faced with this, they only follow a few people, but still manage to be active Twitterers, by putting out calls on Twitter, e.g. getting people to say hi to a live audience. Here the asymmetry of Twitter works well, because if anyone does an @ reply to them, they will see it, even if they are not following that user. So this type of user has the added bonus, plus some of the interaction.
- Small scale social interaction – a lot of my OU colleagues follow each other, some other people they know and not many others. For them Twitter is about maintaining a social interaction with people they know, as Laura puts it, sharing a virtual office with them.
- Wide peer network – with roughly the same number of followers and followed, these users see Twitter as maintaining a wide peer network, both with people they know in ‘real’ life and those they have come across through online interaction. If I had to be in a category, then this is probably me. I follow roughly the same number as follow me (although the two are not equal, ie there are some I follow who don’t follow me and some who follow me who I don’t follow back), and I see Twitter as a means of maintaining a social and professional network with these people.
- Large scale users – think Scoble, GapingVoid, et al people who have lots of followers, and who also follow large numbers. These differ from the wide peer network in scale and because theirs is a network built up by fame, not just social contacts. They are similar to the added bonus user, but they are also very active in interaction.
- Listeners – as the Read/Write post suggests, there are people who prefer to follow lots of others, but don’t really want to post themselves. They see Twitter as being rather like a blog reader, it’s another way of staying up with their subject area.
And if it needs stressing – all of these are ‘valid’ uses of Twitter, in the same way ‘lurkers’, ‘active posters’ etc. were valid uses of forums (remember how people used to agonise over lurkers?). What is also interesting is that you can vary within one user. For example, I am generally a wide peer network kind of user, but I also have a small scale social interaction subset, and the type of post I put up may vary depending on this. So perhaps this is really a classification of Twitter uses, rather than users.