Ten Twitter Mythconceptions

By  |  Monday, May 11, 2009 at 5:01 am

Twitter MythconceptionsPoor Twitter! It may be the hottest service on the Web, but it’s also profoundly misunderstood. Lots of people cheerfully admit they don’t get it. Others emphatically believe things about it that aren’t true. I encounter confusion over Twitter every day, especially in the real world as I chat with folks who have either never used it, or have tried it and then walked away. It also pops up on Twitter itself (where, incidentally, I’m @harrymccracken and a feed of all Technologizer stories is available at @technologizer).

I don’t claim to understand everything there is to understand about Twitter. (If you don’t understand that it’s impossible to fully understand Twitter…well, then you don’t understand Twitter.) I have, however, formed some strong opinions about what I call Twitter mythperceptions. After the jump, my stab at addressing ten of ’em.

Mythconception #1: Twitter is something utterly new.

Reality: I’m not sure if I’ve convinced a single soul of this, but I stubbornly maintain that Twitter is a whole lot like the CompuServe forums that were once the dominant hub for online discussion–it’s just tweets are faster, shorter, and more flexible. What I mean is that Twitter is ultimately a tool for sharing information, advice, and opinion about just about any topic you can imagine. It’s a community with lurkers, friends, astonishingly helpful strangers, and the occasional jerk. In short, it has much in common with every other online community that’s ever thrived over the past few decades. My advice: If you find yourself discombobulated by Twitter, focus on the aspects of it that are familiar rather than those that aren’t.

Mythconception #2: The fact that some people tweet about what they ate for breakfast is a sign that Twitter is shallow.

Reality: Even if ninety percent of tweets and twitterers weren’t worth anybody’s time, Twitter would only be following Sturgeon’s law. And even then, it would be a mistake to judge Twitter by what it’s like at its worst. Like novels, magazines, and movies, Twitter is a judgment-neutral container. Some people fill it with garbage, others with wonderful stuff. I wouldn’t judge Twitter based on tweets I find annoying or boring any more than I’d form opinions about American cinema in its entirety based on, say, this.

Mythconception #3: People who tweet what they had for breakfast are wasting your time.

Reality: Maybe–but only the first time they do it. After that, it’s your own dang fault for continuing to follow someone who you find boring. Twitter, unlike a crowded airplane, is not a place where anyone is forced to listen to someone else blather; you’ve got complete control over whose tweets you do and don’t read.

Mythconception #4: Twitter encourages rampant narcissism.

Reality: Narcissists, I’ll concede, may well use Twitter in a narcissistic fashion. But Twitter isn’t much fun unless other Twitterers take notice of you–which they won’t, if your tweets consist entirely of navel-gazing. The people who get the most out of Twitter over the long haul are those who figure out how to reach out and engage their fellow human beings in conversations. Painfully obvious observation: Being interested in other people is far more likely to get them interested in you than being interested in yourself is.

Mythconception #5: If you follow someone on Twitter you’re honor-bound to read every word he or she tweets. Not doing so is disingenuous, or rude, or maybe both.

Reality: Explain to me again the logic behind that contention? I love Sarah Vaughan’s music but haven’t listened to all of her albums. I subscribe to Fortune magazine, but don’t read every article in every issue. I dote on Mitchell’s Ice Cream, but have tasted maybe fifteen percent of the several dozen flavors it sells. More to the point, there are many bloggers whose work I admire, but not one whose output I read in its entirety, down to the last syllable. Tweeting is a form of (micro)blogging; when you follow someone, you’re simply saying “I find what you have to say interesting enough that I want to be able to keep tabs on it easily.” Or at least that’s what I’m saying about the 1260 Twitterers who I’m following at the moment.

Mythconception #6: If someone follows you, etiquette demands that you follow that person back.

Reality: One of the best things about Twitter is that you don’t have to follow everyone who follows you, and vice versa. It’s fair to say that the most rewarding Twitter relationships are those that involve both parties following each other and interacting, but I’m not presumptuous enough to believe that everyone whose tweets I like reading has the time or interest to pay attention to me. Or to put it another way: Oprah Winfrey has more than 944,000 followers, and is following eleven people.  You’re telling me that Oprah is boorish?

Mythconception #7: Twitter is a significant commitment that burns up a lot of time that busy people simply don’t have.

Reality: I blame Twitter itself in part for this mythconception. Here’s how it defines itself on the homepage you see the first time you visit, before you have an account:

Twitter Definition

I’m not saying that’s not an accurate explanation of one legitimate way to use Twitter, but it surely doesn’t explain the service in all its diversity…and it’s more than a tad intimidating. When I recommend Twitter to some friends and acquaintances who aren’t current users, they get panicky looks and say they’d have trouble recording their every move via Twitter. I explain that you don’t have to tweet frequently, and you aren’t required to tweet your mundane daily activities. Actually, the best twitterers I know tweet only when they have something interesting to say. And that something is often an opinion, an observation, or a link to something worth sharing, rather than an answer to the question “What are you doing?”

Mythconception #8: Your number of followers says something about how interesting your tweets are.

Reality: When you sign up to use Twitter, the service not only comes up with a list of suggested folks for you to follow, but defaults to checking them all off, so one click of your mouse lets you follow all of them. Many of these people have one thing in common: They’re really, really famous.

Twitter Celebrities

The fact that you’re a celeb doesn’t mean you’re bad at twittering–@lancearmstrong, for instance, is pretty darn good at it, even if he does tweet about what he ate for breakfast. But some of Twitter’s suggested users are interesting only because they’re well-known. If @mariahcarey was named, say, Cariah Marey, I have a hard time believing that a third of a million souls would be paying attention to her.


It’s not just that people with a lot of followers aren’t reliably interesting; there are also scads of people on Twitter who have one-tenth of one-percent of Mariah’s followers who know what they’re doing and are fun to read. As good as Twitter is, one of its major failings is still that it can be a challenge to find the best twitterers; I don’t have a pat solution on how to solve that, but I do know that the service’s suggested users feature, in its current form, may actually be eroding any relation between quantity of followers and quality of tweets.

Disclaimer: The fact that I find Mariah Carey’s tweets tedious doesn’t mean there’s anything offensive about her use of Twitter, or objectionable about following her. (See Mythconception #10.)

Mythconception #9: Twitter’s 140-character maximum is a liability.

Reality: Look, I’m not saying that having so few characters to work with can’t be frustrating, and I hereby predict that Twitter–sooner or later, in one fashion or another–will lift the limitation. But in most respects that matter, I think the 140-character count is one of the best things about Twitter. It forces people to get to the point. It helps them become better writers by forcing them to delete superfluous words. It makes tweets–the really good ones, anyhow–into a sort of poetry. You ever hear anyone make the case that haiku would be improved if it involved twice as many words?

Mythconception #10: There are right ways and wrong ways to use Twitter.

Reality: Okay, there’s one profoundly wrong way to use Twitter–as a vehicle for spam. (While writing this article, I signed up for a new account; within moments of its creation, it had three followers, at least two of which were spammy, and one of which had a pornographic, Britney Spears-related avatar.) Beyond that, though, I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as an objectionable method of using this service–and while there are things you can do with Twitter which I think are exceptionally nifty, it’s fine if you disagree. If you don’t like the cut of a particular Twitterer’s jib, the proper response is not to squawk but to stop following that person. If one of your own followers offends you, you can block him or her. Beyond that, I’m in favor of Twitter libertarianism: I won’t tell you how to live your life on Twitter if you won’t tell me how to live mine.

Anyone have any other Twitter mythconceptions–or want to tell me that I’m mythtaken about anything I just said?



46 Comments For This Post

  1. Kip W Says:

    From the 70s on, I was in various amateur press associations, and even in the 70s, there were people who essentially wrote about what they had for breakfast and saw on TV. They typed it up (sometimes on mimeo or ditto), made the required number of copies, and mailed them in. Just for that. Clearly, there is a deep-seated human need to share their meals with people in other states.

  2. Josh Says:

    Twitter is overhyped. I think it’s time to admit that some of us just don’t find it — or the people using it — very interesting. If you find it useful, fine, but please stop trying to convince the world that Twitter pwns. I’m sick of reading about it.

  3. @abba_dad Says:

    Twitter is a modern single-channel IRC client with a bunch of bells and whistles.

  4. Michael Hickins Says:

    Hi Harry,
    This is a great list — no surprise coming from you. I do hope Twitter doesn’t lift its 140-character limit; as you say yourself, it’s one of Twitter’s best features.
    One thing that does cut into my use of Twitter is that sometimes I have to plain shut it off (I use Twhirl) to get some work done. Then I forget to turn it back on. Then I feel bad because I might be missing something. Going back in time like you might do on an RSS reader is a non-starter. But that’s a small gripe.

  5. nicoleatdunwich Says:

    Thank you for this cleverly conceived article. I just joined this thing (I am a bit slow) and these little pointers help me to sift through various opinions and perception. Good luck and keep going

  6. LuLu Says:

    It may be a bit shallow, but all I tweet about IS what I am eating, and it has become somewhat successful. I am “growing” followers very slowly, but surely. ( 1,154 in less than 6 weeks.) It is silly, fun, and quite the little social experiment. LuLuFatToThin

  7. Shelly Kramer Says:


    This is fantastic! Totally agree with you and couldn’t have said it better myself. Terrific post. And the curmudgeons who don’t get Twitter should simply stay away … and quit reading articles about it – hehe. Thanks again for a great job!


  8. venkat Says:

    There are pros and cons of twitter,even my self lot of famous bloggers asking what is twitter? twitter should be used very wisely I used to get latest headlines from twitter.I don not tweet my personal things tweets sould be all technical in my opinion as a tech blogger.

  9. Stefan aka @susuh Says:

    Good analysis, Harry, and already tweeted. I believe there are so many Twitters around due to its simplicity. It is a good example what can evolve if a service is not treating users like sheep.

  10. Disputatore Says:

    Fair enough.

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    @josh: Maybe I should have added an eleventh mythconception: that people SHOULD like Twitter. I’m an agnostic, not a missionary, and don’t care if anyone uses Twitter or not. (But I can’t tell you that I’ll write less about Twitter–the topic of Technologizer is the stuff that interests me and the site’s other contributors…and right now, I’m really interested in Twitter.)


  12. Palmetto Says:

    “I hereby predict that Twitter … will lift the limitation.”

    If they do, then how does Twitter differ from web logs? There’s lots I don’t get about Twitter, and the ‘advantage’ of the 140-character limit is one of my top three. (The others being locating anyone worth following, and how to understand a ‘conversation’ between two posters.)

  13. Tristram Draper Says:

    Very nice, very interesting. I totally get that not everyone is into twitter, but so many people seem to just not get what it is useful for.

    As for Josh, seriously, why do you bother reading articles you do not want to read?

  14. David Jagger Says:

    Excellent article.
    Twitter is all things to all men, and women of course. Some people have tried and just don’t get – which is fine – just like we don’t all have the same friends. It is hyped and that’s because the vast majority of those who sign up to it, enjoy using it, find it interesting, different,informative and talk about it.(try clicking on a few links, there is something there for everyone, whether you follow none or many)

    It can also be time consuming, but that of course is down to the individual. At the end of the day, like anything, you get out of it whatever you put into it. “Woke up,opened my eyes and realised I was awake” or a link pointing you to The History of The Universe – it just doesn’t matter what you say or do. Explore – you might find that you enjoy it. And have fun. No problems…..only opportunities.

  15. Meryl K. Evans Says:

    If you say someone who uses twitter doesn’t get it — then you don’t get it. Twitter is what it is for its users. For some, it’s sharing what they ate for breakfast. For others, it’s building relationships and networking, which goes beyond “What I am doing.”

    Some people make their accounts private — they do get it. They use twitter differently than you and I do.

    Now if someone doesn’t get twitter because he won’t try it or he tried it and gave up, then yeah — he doesn’t get twitter.

  16. Bethany @ Budget Bride Says:

    Great, very true points! I definitely think that for most people, Twitter is about networking, not narcissism. I have discovered so many great new site, companies, and contacts through Twitter, and I’ve only been on the site for about two months.

  17. Alex Says:

    Twitter is 2009’s Second Life, that’s the truth.

  18. Lisa Thorell Says:

    Refreshing post, indeed! I’d add also the “mythconception” that since 60% of Twitter users give up after their first attempts (AC Nielsen data), there is a mythconception that it isn’t taking on with real companies and upper management. True enough, company use of Twitter may be daunting to larger companies, as it breaks up the organizational silos of sales, marketing and customer service. As such, it is difficult for the Enterprise to embrace wontonly, considering public company SEC regulations and concerns regarding legal and HR issues. That notwithstanding- a visit to Executweets shows a growing list (i count 95 CEOs as of today on http://www.executweets.com/about).

  19. Connie G. Says:

    I like to hear what some people had for breakfast! Especially foodies.

    Some of the most trivial-seeming tweets get the most response. What is great about twitter is that we can follow people whose interest reflects our own. I am a needleworker – most people won’t care that I had a needle break after using it once – stitchers, however can relate to that and commiserate.


  20. photohand Says:

    From my experience, Twitters are either marketers or not-very-busy-people.

  21. John Says:

    This is a list of 10 different ways to convince yourself that twitter has value.

    Number 11: Twitter is right for those who want to feel relative in that medium and it is not necessarily a good medium for people who would be left feeling that it’s a shallow return on investment.

    This myth is actually true! Insert twitter babble explanation here and then think for yourself. Wow, one of those self-evident things that doesn’t require voluminous explanation. Love answers like those.

  22. Chris Walden Says:

    Nicely said. One of my friends recently posted: “twitter, you are 99% noise to me.” I asked him why he followed boring people and got stunned silence as an answer. Not sure if he quit tweeting, but I hope he got the idea.


  23. metropolitan Says:

    so why are old people so attracted to twitter is my question?
    you have technoignoramus like john mccain on twitter and the guy famously never sends emails and during the 2008 campaign was revealed to barely know how the internet works?
    is it just that it’s so simple to learn that the reason for twitter’s popularity is that it makes internet dummies feel like they’re doing something cutting edge?

  24. sdaniels_57 Says:

    The 140 character limit is not actually a firm limitation. Using Twitwall you can post as much as you like and it automatically creates a tiny url link to itself from Twitter. My prediction: If they lift the 140 character limit, Twitter will die a quick death.

  25. Gyan Says:

    Great article. I follow you as much for your sense of humor as I do the great information you share. Ok, maybe more, but the info is solid!

  26. Clint Says:

    Mythconception #11: Inventing a word like “mythconception” when the perfectly useful word “misconception” would work just fine makes you clever.

    Reality: It doesn’t.

  27. dcubic Says:

    I hate your guts. Why make this blog anyway?

  28. alexis sofia Says:

    my problem is learning how to juggle Facebook and Twitter. If all my friends are logging onto Facebook, what’s the point of me becoming an active user of Twitter when Facebook is the same utility–with way more features. That’s the part I don’t understand. I can’t find any of my friends on Twitter. All I find are celebrities who probably most dont even do the tweets themselves. And that’s another thing, the lingo: twitter, tweets, my “tweeps, twiggas” I just cant accept them, they-re awful and sound like kindergarten shit!

  29. BamaGirl Says:

    As a community college instructor, I’m bothered by the new technologies that are being used by students so that they may entertain themselves while my class is in progress. We have internet access and WiFI all around the campus and the students want to work on their PC’s during class. I’ve had to adopt a policy of absolutely no phones in class and that their PC’s have to remain in their cases on the floor. The only technology the students may bring to class is a small tape recorder. Every day it’s a battle to remind the students not to access their technologies while the lecture is in progress.

  30. 215dc1 Says:

    I just want to say twitter isnt that complicated.. Just let it come to the ppl that are not on it!! It can be very valuable, but you cant force anyone!! http://www.imeem.com/gg2e/music/9JjHvaUc/dc1-sneak-peak-slide-off-my-life/

  31. Todd Jordan Says:

    Fun list and you’ve really exploded some of the myths I hear the most often.

    I’ve actually taken a stance on #followfriday that folks should no longer recommend me that way. I’ve suddenly reached over 5K followers and most of them contribute little to my experience. I’m encouraging folks to pimp out their newest Twitter buds for others to see if their interesting.

    Also, the myth about reading everything is probably what scares lots of folks away from great sharers. Many folks have a high tweet volume. Folks that want to follow them often unfollow because they say, ‘what the heck, I can’t read every post, so I won’t read them at all.’ That’s a silly attitude. Twitter, for me, is about dipping in, seeing the occasional chat you’re interested in and joining in. The rest of the time is stirring things up or sharing a link or some such.

    Overall this post made me smile. Thank you.

  32. Brian Kenyon Says:

    I think that twitter is a glorified away message except the point is to be more “away” than “there”.

  33. Rob G Says:

    I find the article useful. Being a novice interested in finding thoughtful people using twitter, I am using this advice to reach out.

  34. mikeofmars Says:

    I thought this was a very good explanation of Twitter . I realy like twitter ,I find it interesting reading the real tweets (that is excluding the get rich bs add tweets. If ya don’t get it cool . Theres alot of junk on TV Radio other internet chats and guess what you can hate them as well.
    comments about how much you hate twitter ,maybe its just me but when you post a comment isn’t that TWEETING … ??

  35. John Bailey Says:

    If you have something useful to say, start a blog. Twitter is basically senseless dribble from people that have way too much spare time on their hands. I have been on Twitter for a year, and have followed various people/organizations at various times and I have yet to see a single useful thing posted.

  36. cnansen Says:

    I use Twitter to network with my PLN (personal learning network) of people who have an interest in using technology to improve education.

    I explain it by comparing it to a national technology conference where we all get together socially in the evening. The talk is about schools, education and technology. There are many small conversations going on, and you can’t be part of all of them. But the ones you are a part of you gain from or you move on to another conversation. When you decide it is time to leave, the conversations go on, just without you. You need to set your own priorities about the time you spend socializing at a conference, just as you need to set your priorities about when and how long you use Twitter.

  37. AuroraDizon Says:

    I post about food all the time because I make it. I spend a lot of time creating and perfecting different recipes. Its not like I take pictures of a box of mac and cheese or a pizza hut delivery. A lot of people don’t understand that. What is a cook going to do? Talk about what they made.

    Also most of this article is stuff people already know. Some of it is clever though but no real information.

  38. Charlotte CPA Says:

    Great article. I always laugh when I hear people comment like “Josh” above did. First, if he is tired of reading about Twitter, then why does he read about it and take the time to comment. Pretty funny if you think about it.

    Back to my original comment. I have found Twitter extremely useful in my business (CPA Firm). It allows me to connect with other professionals as well as make myself more known in my local market. We have gotten some good clients from relationships that began on Twitter.

    I really like this list of Misconceptions. I just wish you had published it a year ago when I first started using Twitter.

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  41. Muqeet Says:

    If you say someone who uses twitter doesn't get it — then you don't get it. Twitter is what it is for its users. For some, it's sharing what they ate for breakfast. For others, it's building relationships and networking, which goes beyond "What I am doing.

    Agree with you

  42. Spaceysusyq Says:

    I Agree totally!! I will share and retweet so maybe some who don't understand Twiitter will gaun insight. Very well written and worthy of sharing with others. I am with you. I use Twitter in a variety ways but mostly to share things I encounter that I think others might also be interested in: photography tidbit & examples, quotes I find profound or at least thought-provoking, interview summaries worthy of sharing, health news we all need to know but don't have time to keep up with, grandparenting & teaching tidbits, NASA & science updates, and positive thinking & encouraging words….

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    […] Ten Twitter Mythconceptions by Harry McCracken Poor Twitter! It may be the hottest service on the Web, but it’s also profoundly misunderstood. Lots of people cheerfully admit they don’t get it. Others emphatically believe things about it that aren’t true. […]

  27. Freelance link love for week of May 17 « WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age Says:

    […] 10 Twitter mythconceptions – From Technologizer’s Harry McCracken, starting with No. 1, Twitter is something utterly new (it’s not). […]

  28. Swype.me » Webseite des Tages » 17.05.2009: Technologizer.com Says:

    […] https://www.technologizer.com/2009/05/11/ten-twitter-mythconceptions/ Technologizer.com […]

  29. Mundbotschafter! » 17.05.2009: Technologizer.com Says:

    […] https://www.technologizer.com/2009/05/11/ten-twitter-mythconceptions/ […]

  30. 10 mythes of misconcepties rond Twitter « Is het nu generatie X, Y of Einstein? Says:

    […] maar er bestaan enkele hardnekkige mythes, zoals dat het nieuw zou zijn, oppervlakkig,… Check deze pagina voor 10 dergelijke mythes […]

  31. The Best Resources For Beginning To Learn What Twitter Is All About | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... Says:

    […] Ten Twitter Misconceptions […]

  32. Technologizer.com » TwitterMouth Says:

    […] https://www.technologizer.com/2009/05/11/ten-twitter-mythconceptions/ […]

  33. TwitterNoticias Vol. 4 « El Rincón del Ornitorrinco Says:

    […] 10 Malentendidos acerca de Twitter. Todos pasamos por aquí y seguramente al tratar de explicar que es este servicio y tratar de disipar algunos de las ideas erróneas de gente a la que hemos invitado hemos oído al menos una de ellas. […]

  34. Referencias sobre las aplicaciones educativas de Twitter - DigiZen:Un blogfesor aprendiendo Says:

    […] Ten Twitter Mythconceptions | Technologizer […]

  35. You are Never Alone » Twitter & Facebook Followup - Guidelines issues Says:

    […] Classroom UK TDA Facebook Group for teachers Council of Europe – Internet Literacy Handbook Ten Twitter Mythconceptions Twitter Keeps on Growing – especially in Australia Twitter Classroom This entry was written by […]

  36. links for 2009-10-07 « doug – off the record Says:

    […] 7, 2009How Do Innovators Think? – HBR Editors' Blog – Harvard Business Review October 7, 2009Ten Twitter Mythconceptions | Technologizer October 7, 2009SMART Notebook Express BETA October 7, 2009PhotoSketch October 7, 2009Discover […]

  37. Twitter- More than its mission statement. « Kelsi's Insight on Education Says:

    […] out the complete listing of the 10 Twitter Mythconceptions article […]

  38. Tips for Smart Tweeters « DeKalb County Society for Marketing and Public Relations Says:

    […] Tips for Smart Tweeters August 16, 2010 tags: social media strategies, strategies for Twitter, tips for smart tweeting twitter by Jim Tome There’s no doubting the popularity of Twitter (care to guess who the Top 5 people are, ranked by the highest number of Followers? We’ll reveal that list at the end of the article, but number 5 is Barack Obama with 4,949,403 (as of the writing of this article)). But not everyone gets the need to use Twitter as part of your overall marketing strategy. After all, isn’t mainly for people to tell others what they had for breakfast (link: Top 10 Twitter Mythconceptions)? […]

  39. Tips for Smart Tweeters | DeKalb County Society for Marketing & Public Relations Says:

    […] There’s no doubting the popularity of Twitter (care to guess who the Top 5 people are, ranked by the highest number of Followers? We’ll reveal that list at the end of the article, but number 5 is Barack Obama with 4,949,403 (as of the writing of this article)). But not everyone gets the need to use Twitter as part of your overall marketing strategy. After all, isn’t mainly for people to tell others what they had for breakfast (link: Top 10 Twitter Mythconceptions)? […]

  40. 10 fausses préconceptions à propos de Twitter | Blogue de Samuel Parent Says:

    […] pour combler différents besoins. Je suis tombé sur un billet de Harry McCracken ou il relate ses top 10 faussetés entendu à propos de Twitter et me suis dit qu’il serait intéressant d’adapter ceci A- en français et B- à notre […]