1 Aug 2009

Twitter's Adverse Impacts

I finally installed the Gregarius feed aggregator, even though it is no longer actively supported. I only need a web-based feed aggregator, and so far I've not been able to find a single one that is still actively being supported. Not a single one.

In fact, most of the feed related software seems to have been discontinued in Fall of 2008— just about the time when Twitter use exploded. I knew that Twitter was popular, but I hadn't realized what an adverse impact it is having on how we find, and read, information on the web.

For instance, every once in a while one of my web pages gets some serious traffic, but I can't find out why. The reason most likely is that it has been linked in Twitter, but one of the dozens of the URL shorteners is being used, and there's no way to necessarily connect the dots. Not without having to access web statistics, find all the variations of url shorteners (and my July statistics shows several), and click each and see which page is linked. Then, to find it in Twitter, you have to search on the shortened URL—except that, unfortunately, Twitter doesn't really maintain history.

But scratch all of that: my statistics only show the URL shortening domain URL, from the redirect, not the actual shortened URL. So, even if I wanted to go through the process I just described, I can't. And since most comments are happening in Twitter, not necessarily directly on the articles and posts, or in other articles or posts, we never have an idea what exactly is being said, and by whom—not unless the Twittering person also includes your Twitter name with the link, so you get the information among your "replies". But they're only going to use your Twitter name if they know it, and if they have space left among the 140 characters. If they use an URL shortening service, you may not even know they're referencing your writing, even if you read the twitter message. "Oh, I really disagree with this: http://crpyshrturl/fdsfds" does not tell you a lot. It certainly doesn't give you any hint that what they disagree with, is something you wrote.

I use shorter URLs in this space, and link to my other sub-sites, which feature longer URLs. Some people use my shorter URLs directly. For instance Jeffrey Zeldman linked one of my posts directly in his Twitter account, but I have no idea which one it is. He managed to send me 987 hits, but I'm not sure which tweet of his sent me the traffic. All I can say is I hope it was as good for him, as it was for me.

People use the term "social media" to describe all of this, but there's nothing social about any of it. In fact, I find Twitter short circuits discussion, and circumvents connectivity.

Update Iain was kind enough to point out Backtweet, which resolves short URLs. I was surprised at some of my older stuff showing up on Twitter, including my old Parable of the Languages. Who would have thought that old story still had legs?

But only part of the equation has been found. I know which stories are linked, but I don't know why. One has room in 140 characters to link, or give an opinion, but not both. Not even when using short URLs.