Trying to explain a new technological concept to the uninitiatied, especially something involving social networking, can sometimes be an up-hill task, but it’s a challenge I generally relish.
I came across Melissa Chang’s article on Twitter via the excellent Y Combinator Hacker News. In broad broad summary, Melissa feels Twitter will remain an obscure service in the cultural mainstream (for the time being) due to difficulties in explaining the concept and use-cases.
So I’d just like to address a couple of points Melissa made:
1. It’s hard to explain.
I find it’s very easy to explain, especially to non-nerds, if you tell them “it’s like a slow chat or IM with all your friends.” Elaborating, “your friends’ messages come and go as presence or conversations, and you can reply, start your own, or let them pass by and keep working.” Recent explanations like that have worked for me. Or you tell your neophyte buddy, “it lets you send an IM or text to all your friends at once and they can reply and send you messages, on the internet or on your phone.”
There are lots of neat things you can do with Twitter, so just pick your favorite and say it out loud.
I’m not trying to be a total Twitter advocate here, but I don’t think it’s that hard for people to get, especially for anybody under 25 right now.
2. There is no “key selling proposition.”
See above. There are lots of neat things you can do with Twitter. Just tell your friend what you use it for, in simple terms. “I use it to tell everyone about my cat,” or “I use it to stay in touch with friends during the workday.”
3. People sign up and then leave.
Well, welcome to the internet. But the crux of Melissa’s problem here was not really understanding what to post about. Which I can’t entirely blame her when she first signed up. I think everyone gets that moment at first of, “so… now what? do I put that I’m hungry? I have no friends yet, this is interesting.”
It’s the same with any social network, actually. And I think there’s a huge population of people right now who get that and have no problem sticking around and making use of such tools, linking up with their meat-space friends.
4. The people who don’t use Twitter don’t understand the language of it.
Maybe it’s because I had some experience with IRC back when the crust of the Internet started to cool at the end of the 90’s, but I totally got what the ‘@’ symbol meant and I think most of the young’ins out there get it, too. It’s pretty obvious that those are screen names when you are looking at someone’s timeline (twitter page); people are having conversations.