My response to Ernie? Twitter serves some purposes, elist serve others.
Twitter reminds me of the philosophy class I took in prep school. Our teacher started the year with assignments designed to teach us precision in language: define “me” in exactly ten words, or using no more than five words, define “soul”. Our final was to define “wisdom” in 25 words (or less), and then write an essay defending our definition. So Twitter’s 140-character limit feels like another exercize in precision.
But it’s not the same as communicating via elist. Nothing like.
One of Ernie’s complaints seems to be that elist messages clog inboxes. Are we really still at that stage when people don’t know how to create filters? I have filters on my gmail, outlook and eudora mailboxes, and many messages never even hit my inbox. I’ll happily send a “set up filters” tutorial to anyone still confused by their usage.
Now, there are some thing that Twitter is really good for, and I do use it. Recently, however, I’ve started to hear people saying “oh, I can’t follow [big name in field] because they overtweet” and “there are too many tweets in [important hashtag] for me to handle”. My usage of Twitter has fallen off somewhat as a result; stop following my stream because I’m boring or not adding to your knowledge base, not because I’m overtweeting, and if I am overtweeting, tell me.
Part of my biggest problems with Twitter is the way in which you read the stream. If I’m working, or reading, or sleeping, or any number of other activities, I’m not following the stream. By the time I’ve checked (and I’ve tried TweetDeck, Yoono, Seesmic, and plain old Twitter), often too many tweets have passed and I end up only going back an hour or so and then giving up. If I’m following someone who posts great links, the best way for me to not miss something is to put the RSS feed for their tweets into my Reader.
Twitter reminds me of eBay: you can create an alert, but if the item you want is offered at a time when you’re offline for a chunk of time, or you’re not flush enough to purchase right then, you’re out of luck. There are times when I’ve seen a request for information far after it was asked, or questions I’ve had get no response (I choose to think the people I’ve asked are busy, not ignoring me).
Elists, on the other hand, are like any other e-mail: the posts sit nicely in their appointed mailbox until I’m interested in looking at them. Since I use Gmail for my lists, I can ignore whole threads (for example, the 23 messages on SLN regarding AR usage). But when an interesting discussion, like the recent one on YALSA-BK that started the YAzzies, occurs, I can read it and get more from the comments than a mere 140 characters allows (and let’s be honest, in a ‘conversation’ on twitter, you lose characters for the @ and the username, not to mention any hashtags). Reading responders thoughts about their least favorite reads, or on publishers and reviewers gave me much to think about in terms of my reading and reviewing.
As I was pondering Ernie’s comments, I read Cites & Insights 10:12 (ok, I’m a little behind in my reading). Walt talks about just this issue:
Lists have changed. They’re not as dominant today as they were in, say, 1999: How could they be? They’re used for different purposes. Much of the ephemeral traffic has moved to Twitter, particularly for topics where 140 characters is all there is to say. But “less dominant” is one thing; “irrelevant” is quite another. I regard email lists as a lot less useful and central than they were a decade ago; that doesn’t make them irrelevant or dying.
Different tools, different tasks.