Nothing can destroy my productivity the way Twitter can. There are a lot of potential distractions, especially the multitude available over the internet, but Twitter’s nature makes it far more distracting than web browsing, email or even other social networks.
Twitter focuses on what is interesting
The point of Twitter is to follow people who are interesting, regardless of whether you know or like them, and regardless of whether they have any interest in you (unless they actively block you from following them).
This contrasts with Facebook or Linked In which require some form of acceptance form the other person. Facebook does now have a Twitter like “follow” feature, but its is secondary and not widely used. Facebook also has fan pages for one way relationships, but most people do not have one.
I would be quicker to stop following someone boring than someone obnoxious: very much the opposite of what I would do on Facebook. Interesting people are not necessarily likeable, and likeable people are not necessarily interesting.
The end result is that a typical Twitter user follows large numbers of interesting people (interesting means that their tweets are interesting). This means that a quick glance is likely to find a high proportion of engaging content. In particular it has a high proportion of content that invites further discussion.
Twitter lets you scan a lot of content quickly
Because of Twitter’s 140 character limit on tweets, it is possible to scan a lot of tweets quickly, increasing the odds of quickly finding one that is interesting enough to respond to or that contains a really interesting link.
This increases the odds of a casual glance at Twitter turning into a discussion or leading to a site that is time consuming to read.
Twitter becomes hostile more easily
Twitter encourages users to follow interesting strangers. This is Twitters great strength. It also means that discussions can turn hostile without any social consequences. I cannot imagine anyone on Facebook saying something like “I hate people like you” (something I was told on Twitter a few weeks ago), because they are all either personal friends or family, or belong to some place or community which means they have some real life connection with me.
Because Twitter is more focused on topics than on people it is also more frequently used to discuss controversial topics, and there is no restraint about bringing up topics that may upset people: for example a blog post I recently read on abortion had a paragraph at the start warning that it contained graphic details that could be upsetting to those who have had abortions or miscarriages, that kind of restraint is unusual on Twitter — partly because the terse 140 character limit leaves little room for prefaces or tactful phrasing.
The result is both high engagement (few people quietly back off from arguments once started) and stress.
Twitter is often immediate
In interesting tweet very often gets fast responses, which can lead to an immediate extended discussion. While this is also true of some other forms of communication, social networks are unique in the combination of fast response, high reach (tweets are seen by every who follows the tweeter and anyone mentioned in a tweet) makes fast responses much more likely.
This makes Twitter far more likely to engage a user for a long time than a forum is.
Twitter covers all topics
Because people typically tweet on multiple topics, and follow people interested in different topics, it covers far more that topics that may engage a users. It is perfectly possible to look at Twitter to look for tweets about investment and find lots of interesting tweets on politics or religion (often that one wants to respond to). This happens to me quite frequently.
Twitter is often partly work related
Many people tweet about work related topics (giving one a great excuse to tweet during working hours), but few have the discipline to stick to just that. Once you are on all the distractions are right in front of you.
Try finding an excuse to spend working hours on Pinterest!
Twitter is public and demanding
Most people make their Twitter streams public, so people with similar interests can find and follow them. The problem is that producing a stream of terse comments that you are willing to put in writing in public is demanding. Mistakes are public, lack of fact checking is noticed. It takes effort, but as the effort is demanded in 140 character bursts, it is easy to fail to realise how much time and effort it takes in the course of a day.
The problems are the benefits
The problems are the benefits, not just a consequence, or even just an inevitable consequence. The point of Twitter is to find interesting people with interesting ideas and interesting discussions.
One of the great advantages of Twitter is that, because if you follow someone you see their tweets on all topics it exposes users to a diversity of opinions: especially when combined with its ability to find interesting strangers from anywhere in the world to follow (that sentence would have sounded creepy before Twitter…). This is especially valuable in an age when social media and a huge choice of broadcast and print media make it easy to retreat into a world where conflicting opinions disappear from view.
There is nothing wrong with Twitter. It does what it is meant to, but at a price.