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On Twitter, downtime and my lack of updates…

Despite using it less and less over the last few weeks, I absolutely LOVE Twitter. Twitter has had a rough week. Let's discuss!

So, I’ve been like totally DOA on my blog. My bad. I actually have SIX entries in draft mode, but I wasn’t able to finish them in time to be, like, pertinent. Maybe I’ll use them for something in the future. Blame Grant. Oh, yes, because I haven’t made it public on my “blog” yet — Grant is my boyfriend. We’re totally lame and in love. Laugh at us. It’s OK — we laugh at ourselves.

Anyhoo, Grant is just one reason I’ve been less active — I’ve had other stuff going on and I’m trying to get a good schedule to handle all my writings and future projects (including filmgirl.tv which IS coming — the test runs I’ve done have sucked ass so I’m refining my approach).

What finally spurred my need to write on my personal blog was Twitter. Despite using it less and less over the last few weeks, I absolutely LOVE Twitter. LOVE. LOVE. But Twitter has had a rough week. Let’s discuss!

First, the downtime (because I think this is both more important long-term and because I think the frustration over it has made the second TOS issue more heated): It sucks. It sucks hardcore. The reason I’ve been on Twitter less isn’t just that I’m having a hard time dealing with how to parse so many followers (I like to follow people back and was overwhelmed when I reached the 500 follower mark and then the 1000 follower mark and now I’m approaching 1500…it is insanity, but in a good way!) — it’s because the damn service has been incredibly unreliable for me both on my MacBook (via Twitterrific and the web client) and on my BlackBerry (via Twitterberry, which was better in the last update but still totally lags in features compared to all the iPhone programs, and the iPhone isn’t even unlocked for 3rd party programs yet!). Unreliable service plus a million people = tons of frustration. When I get frustrated, I tend to just NOT use something as much.

I was hoping the problems would start to sort themselves out — and for a while it looked like that was on the verge of happening. But then the service started totally getting sucktastic over the last ten days and eating my updates and hiding my replies and I just had to go. AHHHH.

Still, I genuinely love Twitter and want nothing more than for the infrastructure and the service to succeed. I cannot even imagine using another service (FriendFeed just doesn’t do it for me — sorry, it just doesn’t.), because absolutely NO program, social network, IM service, forum, “community”, etc., etc. has had such a high ROI. The one possible exception would be LiveJournal back in 2001 – 2003, but that was more of a social ROI and less of a social AND professional ROI. And you had to put a whole lot more into LJ (at least I did) to get the goods back. With Twitter, I’ve met so many incredible people (Aaron, Jeremy, Loren, Shashi, Linda, Micah, LISA!!, MIKE DOE and a million others I’m forgetting) that I may never have met (in some cases it is an absolute certainty) and connected with people and an industry in a very real and very potent way.

Twitter is awesome and I have undoubtedly formed and become part of a community forged by Twitter.

But is Twitter, the service, a community?

That seems to be the root of the debate centered around Twitter’s Terms of Service. Let me start by saying that while I do not know Ariel Waldman, I do deeply empathize with her struggle. To my knowledge, I haven’t had anyone stalk or harass me on Twitter, but my stalker from high school DID show up on MySpace and initiated contact with me through subversive means (before I figured out who it was and told where to go) and it is one of many reasons I basically stopped using the site. That guy is mentally unstable and was demonstrably violent when I met him in 1997 (when we were both 14, almost 15) — I don’t even want to think about what he is capable of now (the fact that he was calling my parents house as recently as 2001 and tried to contact me through MySpace in 2006 is proof of his continued instability — we went on maybe two “dates” at the very beginning of 9th grade).

I understand being stalked and harassed, online or off. I understand how it can be hurtful and embarrassing to be called awful names online. I can only imagine how frustrating — and yes, scary — it could be for someone to reveal personal information about you online using an alias, or using a service like Twitter to say nasty things.

What I also understand, however, is that it isn’t Twitter’s role — TOS or not — to mediate these types of conflicts. I also agree with Twitter in saying that it shouldn’t be their role. I don’t want it to be their role. I’m usually not that libertarian on issues like this, but unless we’re talking clear-cut threats (things that say, “I’m going to kill you” — that sort of thing, again, while I do empathize with Ariel, I do not think being called the c-word, online, offline or otherwise is a threat.), I’m not a fan of any online service (“community” or not) stepping in. Flickr has a pretty stringent TOS in-place because the main medium being shared/commented on is photographs. Photographs, especially photos of “real” people carry certain rights and are subject to certain regulations that other mediums are not.

Again, I think it all comes down to a central question: is Twitter a community or a service. Personally, while I feel that I have met a community of people forged AROUND Twitter — I do not see Twitter itself as a community. Thus, I don’t see Twitter as an arbitrator in community issues. Stopping spam, bot-created accounts and other stuff — yes, that’s part of their job as a service. Getting involved in personal disputes (even if the subject matter is vile and is insulting), I’m not so sure.

From what I can gather, the jackasses account was erased in March. An account that lots of other people used to say things anonymously, like PostSecret, was what was being used to deliver the most recent unpleasant remarks. And see, whether or not accounts like that are a technical violation of the current TOS or not (and I so don’t care about the semantics of what the TOS says and what parts of the TOS they are actually willing to enforce — I am glad they are going to update it to be reflective of their actual position), getting involved in those kinds of disputes is just, in my opinion, opening up a can of worms that will only be an unending nightmare for the Twitter employees — who don’t have a lot of time as it is — and I’ll admit my own selfishness here, I would rather they focus their efforts on getting the service usable and stable than getting into user-to-user disputes.

Plus, while Flickr is used as the main example of why Twitter should get involved (and that is their own fault — they used some of their terms in drafting their terms), let’s look at other services like Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, AIM, etc., etc. Most of those services will not get involved AT ALL in user-to-user debates. Do you even KNOW how much drama goes on online between girls in middle school and high school online? I mean, holy shit, I remember the level of stupid and over-dramaticicism when I was in high school — 7 years later — I can’t even imagine. Group chats on AIM where people say bad things about you and then forward the chat transcripts to everyone in your class. I’m sure that’s all done on blogs now (we sometimes used “guest books”). I don’t know if it is because I’m more immune to this sort of behavior because I grew up as it was kind of starting (I was in 8th grade when AOL REALLY took off, so I consider myself part of Generation Web 1.0), or that I just find online attacks less important than others (personally, if I see nasty stuff written about another person online, I don’t automatically take it as fact — if anything, I discount the nastiness immediately because I tend to devalue ADULTS who act like children), but I can’t really get upset if people write or say bad things about me online. I mean, I’m ultimately responsible for putting my words and my information out there. I accept the consequences of making my life (or parts of my life) “public.”

In college, when I didn’t write for any well-trafficked web sites or participate in any larger-spread web communities, I felt more at ease to write about my personal angst and ennui in my journal. I still didn’t publicize it — I still protected any entries about close friends, roommates, boyfriends or family members. As soon as I got the gig with USA Today last year, I realized I would have to use my private journal in a different way — and I accepted that. Oh — FYI — the most blatantly awful e-mails I have ever received (though they are closely tied with some of the TUAW comments on the devil’s advocate parenting post I wrote) were from Clay Aiken fans — women in their 40s and 50s — threatening me, sending me viruses and e-mail bombs and trying to find out my personal information because I dared say that the guy didn’t have any talent. Yeah…

Twitter is a tool; a service. The service itself does not constitute a community. If the users of Twitter who consider themselves a community want to set certain acceptable and unacceptable limits for what is appropriate and inappropriate, we can choose to unfollow or block people we find vile and disgusting. The answer, I think, is to not feed the trolls. The answer is not to have the service act as a mediator, a judge or an arbitrator in interpersonal disputes. Personally, I don’t want Ev or Biz involved in my personal issues. I don’t want anyone from any service involved in my personal issues. A real threat or a violation of the service using spam or bots — fine — but insults will happen with or without Twitter. Why waste time focussing on fixing a problem that will only get bigger the more you poke it?

Again, I ultimately think the reaction to this issue was exasperated by the downtime of the service. If the service was working better, people would be less inclined to jump on any bandwagon. Instead, it is easier to see this as just another area that the service is failing. I understand this — and it is unfortunate for Twitter that this discussion is taking place now (though it is a discussion that needs to happen). It’s just another reason Twitter needs to FIX THEIR SHIT!!!

Alright, I’m out!

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8 people have left comments

Mike Doe - Gravatar

Mike Doe said:

Hey Christina,

Great post! Wish I had some deep thoughts to add on your twitter commentary, but, uh, that’s not so much my thing. All I can add is “Amen, Sista” and my own hopes that Twitter gets its act together ASAP.

As for FilmGirl.tv, I’ll be glad to give my two cents on any “demos” you’ve done so far. Just gimme the word.

Great to see you posting again!

Posted on: May 24, 2008 at 7:11 pmQuote this Comment
Linda Sherman - Gravatar

Linda Sherman said:

Christina, It’s great to hear from you. Thank you so much for including me in your top of mind short list of people you have met on Twitter. You are certainly on mine.

I agree that the “block” function should be sufficient for nasty or ill-intentioned people. I appreciate receiving warning DM’s from Twitter pals about these folks. I do take time to check people out before I follow them back. I usually look at their profile and their blog. If I spot a mean tweet on their profile, I stop there. I created a set of Twitter follow request e-mail folders. One is for profiles to come back to later when they are further developed. Time allowing, I’ll drop them some advice in a DM. It’s amazing how few people think of leaving a thoughtful comment on a blog in order to get attention for a follow-back consideration. I am very cautious on Facebook because I feel that people I friend have access to my friends. That’s because new friends can approach my trusted friends with me sitting there as a reference.

There is one other category of cyber aggravation and that is someone posing as being or owning a brand. On MySpace I was very appreciative of their ability to react to a request to take down a site that was misappropriating a brand that I represented. For this they required legal documents showing ownership of the brand. The requests were reasonable and reaction time was not bad at all.

I would like to introduce you to @vvanpetten who includes cyber bullying in a blog for parents of teens called Teens Today.

Posted on: May 24, 2008 at 8:09 pmQuote this Comment
Saul Colt - Gravatar

Saul Colt said:

Christina, Grant

Congrats on finding love!

saul

Posted on: May 25, 2008 at 8:58 amQuote this Comment
LISA! - Gravatar

LISA! said:

U 2 r giant suck faces and i love it! i’m so glad your absence was caused by soppiness rather than a trip to rehab… although apparently you can find love even in rehab… well at least until you sober up and realize you’re making out with an emotionally unstable and needy actress headed on a downward spiral…

but hizzah! you rock and i’m sooooooo happy for you and your use of comic life! re: twitter. i’m still totally in love with it, but i agree that as your number of followers increases (which is awesome, but..) you have less time to actually follow people you actually know and iCelebs that often post cool and interesting things. i think the main problem i’m facing is whether or not to follow people back. when you get 20+ followers a day, it takes so much time to look at their tweets, check their blog, and make sure they aren’t lame twitterspam. but, if you don’t add people, then they are unable to DM you, which is kinda lame because sometimes i miss the @ comments (especially lately because of the”giant fail”. i noticed that you’ve added quite a significant chunk of your followers and also regularly @ them replies. how are you finding this? too demanding? or do you set aside some time for this and just do an hour of this and then walk away from your computer…

PS I love that you are in love. Aww.

Posted on: May 25, 2008 at 3:36 pmQuote this Comment
Micah Baldwin - Gravatar

Micah Baldwin said:

Wow, Ms. Christina, you go silent for weeks and then bam!

So there are three distinct topics you covered:

1) Twitter’s TOS battle – unforgivable. Not that it occurred, but that all sides allowed to to spiral out of control. Ev’s blog post that uses “we have no pr people…waaaah!” as an excuse doesnt alleviate the issue. It is one of common sense and decency. Rule #1: If customer is pissed, assume customer has a blog. Rule #2: action is better than perceived inaction. It was the fact that twitter didnt seem to “care” that was the crux of the issue.

2) Twitter as a community. Twitter is not a community. Twitter is a communication medium. It would not be surprising or groundbreaking if the conversations occurring at Twitter moved to FriendFeed or Pownce or the Next Next Cool thing. The only thing that makes Twitter interesting from a community standpoint is that the rapid nature of the communication allows for increased familiarity. Copy that somewhere else, and everyone will move. Hello Friendster.

So, for Twitter to survive, it has to make the community feel welcome – therefore see point #1.

3) How cool it is to have met me. yeah, I couldnt agree more.

(This old douchebag still has it. Bam!)

Posted on: May 25, 2008 at 3:49 pmQuote this Comment
The War of the Tweets « Thoughts, Raves & Outright Beatings - Gravatar

The War of the Tweets « Thoughts, Raves & Outright Beatings said:

[…] my hard-core libertarian stances, I’d normally agree with this person’s argument.  In fact, one of the things I like about WordPress is that my blockage of obnoxious posters […]

Posted on: May 26, 2008 at 2:16 amQuote this Comment
Shashib - Gravatar

Shashib said:

Christina,

Can’t wait to meet grant and take more pictures. Great post. I was under the impression the world has changed and there were no stalkers anymore . oh well , me and my dreams 🙂

Shashi

Posted on: June 9, 2008 at 8:54 amQuote this Comment
Thejesh GN - Gravatar

Thejesh GN said:

Hey Christina, Great post. I had similar thoughts on twitter.

BTW you are right in the fact that twitter is very addictive and my biggest online community is now on twitter.

Posted on: June 20, 2008 at 2:11 pmQuote this Comment