Twitter No Longer Cares About What You’re Doing

By  |  Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Though not as noticeable as Retweets or Lists, Twitter has stopped asking users the completely uninteresting question, “What are you doing?”

Instead, the social messaging service now asks, “What’s happening?” It’s a simple alteration that could help point new users in a different, less mundane direction. Or, in the words of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, “maybe it’ll make it easier to explain to your dad.”

Twitter is catching up to its users, who in large part abandoned the literal description of their activities long ago. My feed might not be an indication of everyone else’s, but looking at the last 40 tweets in my timeline, only six are descriptions of what the person is up to.¬†Stone has noticed the same thing. “Between those cups of coffee, people are witnessing accidents, organizing events, sharing links, breaking news, reporting stuff their dad says, and so much more,” he writes.

I wish Twitter had picked up on this shift sooner, because I think a lot of people missed the point of the service during its rise to the mainstream this year. After Twitter traffic ramped up sharply from February to April, it took an 8 percent dive in October, according to comscore. Anecdotally, I’ve got a lot of professional contacts and colleagues using Twitter in cool ways, but my actual friends tend to broadcast their activities a few times, get bored, and quit.

Some companies have missed the boat, too. Look at the integration of Twitter into Xbox Live and the launch of TwitterPeek, a bare-bones tweeting device. Neither are well-suited to what Twitter has become, because you can’t upload photos or look at videos, and TwitterPeek has a minimal Web browser while the Xbox 360 doesn’t have one at all. Users of these tools are pushed towards a “What are you doing?” mentality, and they’ll get tired of it.

Harry has said there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter, but hopefully this small change in wording will steer people towards a usage that they’ll actually enjoy.

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