I have been considering recently why we use Twitter. I know why *I* use it: it rocks for networking and collecting and sharing resources, and filtering the web-at-large through my network of other librarians and educators and web junkies. Collectively speaking however, I hear a lot of chatter about the concept of the “real-time web” and Twitter’s usefulness as a real-time search tool. ReadWriteWeb ran an interesting series recently about this topic of the “real-time web”, and it necessarily focused a lot on Twitter because right now it is the focal point of content coming in real-time. (Friendfeed, of course, is also out there, but so many fewer people use it that it gets ignored mostly.)
Hammering home this particular emphasis, the somewhat recent re-design of Twitter’s home page positioned the service as one that is based around Trending Topics and searching. My question is why is there all this buzz around the real-time web and searching on Twitter, when we all know that the Trending Topics are routinely clogged with spam, and even if they weren’t, are mostly about things like Chris Brown’s raunchy bowtie on Larry King, or what Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry are chatting about today. (Not to mention the fact that Twitter only indexes your Tweets in their search engine for around a week and a half.)
With the exception of tracking certain conferences via hashtags, (some of which now are even hard to follow due to spam), sometimes I feel like I am the only one who has never found Twitter Search to be useful. I find it very difficult to argue Twitter’s professional utility when the first thing a new user sees upon visiting the home page is a bunch of strange looking “topics” with odd ‘#’ symbols everywhere and the name Jay-Z three times in big blue font.
And that is not Twitter’s only problem if they want to be taken seriously as a real-time web tool. Slate ran an article recently about why microblogging (and implicitly, the real-time web) is too important for Twitter to be the only service out there. It was produced in the wake of the DDOS attacks that took Twitter offline briefly about a month ago. Imagine your RSS reader: if one blog or feed is down, you only lose access to that particular stream. On Twitter, as it stands now, if one stream is down, they’re all down. As I was writing this, I lost access to my Twitter home page for a couple minutes. What’s real-time about that?
One of the best critiques of Twitter I have read recently came from James Clay in his post entitled “Ten reasons why Twitter will eventually wither and die…” I would love to argue with him about why I think Twitter could outlast some of these things, but instead I am begrudgingly inclined to agree. Unless Twitter realizes its own importance, or the real-time web junkies start exploring new venues into making this data decentralized, then I think we are in for (or in need of) a real wake-up call sooner rather than later.