Tweeting Thoughts: The Allure of Twitter for Ordinary People

The initial choices impact the life cycle of social media tools. The popular 140-character micro-blogging tool has been evolving to enhance user experience with shortened URLs, photo and video sharing applications. Lucky for Twitter, the young and beautiful, the rich and famous, companies and institutions love tweeting. Even luckier, millions of commoners use it.

While Twitter offers the best way of being in the loop, only a minority of Twitter users can ever spit out something interesting in 140 characters: select commentators, museums, periodicals, veteran bloggers, and indie whistle-blowers. At the level of the individual, it takes a Stephen Fry, a David Lebovitz, a social media visionary, business guru, or politician to tweet engagingly. Sure the masses enjoy following a coked-up Lindsay Lohan tweeting about a breakup as her mascara smudges on her pillow or Nicholas Kristof’s heart-rending tweets. But the average tweeter rarely tweets something worth reading. Most ordinary tweeters simply over-tweet.

Stephen Fry as a Simpsons character

Although there may be interesting exceptions, there is no comparison between common people and celebrities. My favourite tweeter, Stephen Fry has 4.594.048 followers, 12,352 tweets, and follows 52,025 tweeters. For the sake of comparison, let’s look at Fry’s Aussie business partner Andrew Sampson (@sampsonian). While quite an interesting commoner on twitter, Sampson only has 2.522 followers, shows a talent for over-tweeting with 34.069 posts, and follows 610 tweeters. Someone in between is the creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey (@jack). Dorsey tweeted 11.424 times, follows 1.209, and has 2.062.491 followers. Over the past few days, he has been over-tweeting about Bruce Lee. One tweet in which he stated he was discovering and appreciating Lee’s wisdom followed by a couple of quotes would have sufficed. But like most tweeters, Dorsey went into mode overkill and tweeted more Bruce Lee quotes than I could count on my fingers. Common vice. By design, twitter precludes anyone who is not as witty, productive and polymathic as Stephen Fry from being interesting, including Barack Obama (mainly because his staff tweets for him). Overall, the impulse to tweet your life away is great, yet the chances of being interesting dim. Maybe that is why CelebrityTweet, which eliminates the tweets of the common folk, remained so popular.

The Nation, the Pakistani daily, recently hailed Barack Obama (@BarackObama) as the tweeter-in-chief in a piece about the Burson-Marsteller report on the political uses of Twitter. According to the Nation, President Obama set the record among the world leaders with 17.884.061 followers. Most of Obama 4970 tweets are written by his staff, as the ‘tweets from the President are signed –bo.’ The American President follows 675.087, mostly fellow democrats, his election campaign accounts, and god knows who else. Overall, President Obama is the fifth most popular user on Twitter. In the league of nations, his chief antagonist from Americas follows suit. Hugo Chavez (@chavezcandanga) tweets in Spanish, has 3.239.531 followers and 1.692 tweets. President Chavez follows the tweets of 23: the President of Uruguay, PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela), Bolivia’s Minister of Information and Innovation, many a militante, socialista y Chavista from Venezuela and Bolivia. Chavez is noted for responding to 38 % of his messages.


Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) has 1.198.537 followers, and 306 tweets in a staff-run account. The First Lady follows seven users (her husband, Joe Biden, The White House, Joining Forces, Let’s Move, Obama-Biden campaign manager, and the Office of VP Biden.) The Second Man’s account has 97.708 followers, 301 tweets. VP Joe Biden’s staff runs his account (@JoeBiden) and follows 14 people.

Yesterday’s Twitter crash topped the news, almost shadowing the losses Facebook and Zynga reported earlier this week. Professionals and users complained about the crash of a 4bn social media giant on the eve of the Olympic games. The crash was caused by synchronous ‘double-whammy’ in two data centers. We are told Twitter is ‘investing [even more] aggressively’ to avoid its reoccurrence.

Twitter Crash on July 26, 2012

I’ve been thinking about why so many people found the Twitter outage so very frustrating. I’m following 243 accounts on Twitter and still I find the influx of tweets overbearing. I receive more tweets than I can possible read or enjoy reading. Facebook allows users to tune down the traffic by unsubscribing from the updates of one’s most boring friends. There is no middle way on Twitter: unfollow completely or follow loyally. Twitter constantly throws a mix of important and trivial on your plate. Each time I spend ten minutes on Twitter, I am distracted for another half hour. I follow my favourite people, publications, museums, and blogs on Twitter. Often I cannot resist clicking the link by a beloved publication or chef. I end up spending so much time reading articles, blog entries, checking out pictures and pages. I don’t know how much time becoming a popular tweeter takes for an ordinary person. While tweets are often about nothing than something, writing interesting nothings takes as much time as writing something interesting.

I wonder what you think about Twitter, how it affects your productivity, who you find most interesting. Are there accounts by ordinary people to the contrary?

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