Of course Twitter is “pointless babble”

Pear Analytics has recently released a report that claims that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble”.  This study is reviewed here by Mashable who cite this as not being “favourable to those of us with lofty views of Twitter.”

How disappointing.  Only 40 per cent?  I would have hoped for rather more.  How disappointing also that Mashable chooses to take the view (along with Pear Analytics) that Twitter’s value and importance lies only when “something more intellectual is going on” rather than in tweets that fall into “I’m eating a sandwich now category”.

The whole point of Twitter is that it is nonsense – connected nonsense – and this makes it a whole different form of nonsense from the nonsense that has gone before.  The “I am eating a sandwich now” tweet is, in essence, no different from the “I am watching a plane crash land on the Hudson River” tweet.  The relevance of both of those tweets is not determined in advance by the tweeter, but by the way in which that tweet establishes its context through connection with other tweets and bits of digital information that relate to the subject (or conversation) it deals with.  In the case of sandwich eating, that context is probably quite restricted and the level of connection pretty small.  In the case of plane crashes – its probably pretty big.

There is no point in looking at Twitter the way we looked at traditional media and attaching a value to it based on its ability to restrict itself to information whose relevance is determined by mass interest.

Take Albert Einstein for example.  I am sure that 40% of what came out of his mouth would fall into Pear’s mindless babble category.  We didn’t either dismiss him or demand the restriction of his verbal output to “lofty” pronouncements on space and time.  Einstein could talk about what he  had for lunch without us thinking any the lesser of him.  Of course, if he had written a scientific paper on it we might have thought it a little strange, but that is because in the old world influence or relevance was determined by place, not space.  So when Einstein had something he wanted to say to the community of physicists he said it in a place where all those physicists were gathered (a publication or conference).  Nowardays we use the same place (or tool such as Twitter) to say everything and influence or relevance is determined by the spaces (conversations) into which our utterances get drawn.  These may be very big conversations or they may be very small conversations.  It matters not which.

Take also your head.  The individual fragments of information that sit on your mental shelves, when viewed collectively, would present a pretty good picture of pointless babble.  This same information, when viewed connectedly, constitutes intelligence.

It is a shame that people who should know better (i.e. Mashable) still don’t appear to have a real understanding of why social media is different and can only view it through the lens of what has gone before.

More on this here.


  1. Sarah

    At no point did we try to tell people how they should be Tweting. We simply wanted to do a study to see how people were using Twitter. We wondered what days and times were best for getting a RT, when people should post something important. If people were actually listening to one another.
    Everyone seems to be very upset with the pointless babble category. What people forget is, that if you have 2000 followers, what percentage of those people really care that you just ate a sandwich. Sure, 3 or 4 people might find it interesting, but to the other 1995 people, it’s pointless.
    Sure, most people filter who they follow. But when looking at the public timeline, we didn’t have the luxury of only following those we found interesting. We had to see everyone’s posts. There are a lot of people on there who post truly random crap. But, everyone likes to think whatever they Tweet must be some little nugget of great wisdom. I think that’s why so many people are offended by the term. We didn’t mean to offend. But at the same time, I really don’t need to know every little thing that happens throughout your day. Some people feel the need to post every single little thing. Maybe your mother following you on Twitter is happy to know you just ate a ham sandwich, or just took a deuce, but, most other people aren’t.

  2. Pingback: Using analogies to explain social media. Its a bit like… « Richard Stacy @ Stacy Consulting
  3. Matt

    Hi Richard – just discovered your site today and am loving your insightful articles. Your pieces on twiter reminded me of something I wrote – just to vent to myself really – about twitter use during Obama’s confimation that Bin Laden was dead. listed below.

    I know I work in communications – but I couldn’t help myself – and before I knew it I had written a (short) year 10 response to an exam question that I wasn’t even asked – “Twitter use is growing every day. It is a valuable communications tool that connects people and foster’s a sense of belonging. Discuss”.

    I see twitter was out of control yesterday. I heard on the radio that there was some extraordinary amount of tweets per second – 3 or 4 thousand per second depending on which report you read.



    The height was reached during Obama’s speech – but as the radio commentator said – which I totally agree with – instead of telling the ‘world’ what you think in less than ten words..why not actually listen to what the President was saying? It seems it is not enough these days to listen, pay attention or just experience something without having to put your own stamp on it.

    I can only imagine how many people tweet from concerts for example – just put the phone away and enjoy the show – are you really adding any value by telling your 17 followers – half which are friends and family and the other half people who subscribed to you accidentally – what the f*ck you think of Katy Perry’s outfit (“totally awesome”) or Bieber’s latest dance move (“he’s so hot right now”)….

    It has its place and I’m sure there are some very funny and wry commentator’s that would be quite amusing. But at the end of the day, is twitter simply for people who think what they have to say about truly monumental events (such as yesterday) or their daily mundane tasks important enough to broadcast? Do they think their opinion is so insightful or meaningful they have a burning desire to share it? Or do we as a society now simply seek self validation constantly – and (sadly) feel validated by the fact we have tweeted or updated Facebook? Are we so self-obsessed that unless we comment on something it hasn’t really happened?

    Perhaps Twitter is the new expression of western society’s nationalism? Instead of running out into the streets and shooting off rounds from an AK-47 into the air – armed with I-Phones or Blackberry’s – crowds litter the streets of cyberspace with tweets instead of empty bullet casings. Maybe it is just a modern extension of shooting a gun in the air to tell people around you how you feel – but just like spraying bullets into the air – tweets disappear into pointlessness.

    Do you think in 100 years there will be anyone that simply watches the sun rise over a river – sits for five minutes – and contentedly exhales and then gets stuck into their day without the need to broadcast how they spent their morning? Will there be anyone left that doesn’t feel the need to tell everyone everything that they do? Will someone be able to sit through a presentation, a play or a concert and not feel the need to pass comment?

    I hope so. But I fear that 99 times out of a 100 that the glorious sun rise will be instantly tweeted or loaded onto a Facebook page – not to celebrate its beauty – but to simply say – with what all this boils down to – “look at me”…….

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