I’ve grown to really like Twitter.
Sure, it may be a place full of irrelevant verbal haemorrhage. Sometimes the steady stream of random tweets makes me feel like I’m stuck in the mind of a deranged telemarketer. People are out there promoting stuff, making inane statements about the colour of their breakfast or sharing regurgitated inspirational quotes. In short, it’s just like real life, but condensed into 140 characters.
Despite all that, it’s also the place where I’ve met a bunch of great fellow writers, bloggers and time wasters. I wouldn’t have known about some inspiring blogs or found as many guest posters for mine if it wasn’t for Twitter.
However, there’s one feature of Twitter that is essentially useless. I’m talking about Direct Messages. The basic idea is sound: you get to interact directly and privately with fellow Twitter users. That’s as far as the “sound” part of the equation goes. In reality, I now largely ignore my Twitter “inbox”, due to an overwhelming amount of spam and junk that lands there on a daily basis. Additionally, since there are no convenient sorting, filtering or categorising options it’s very hard to keep track of “real” direct messages.
Below I’ll show you the breakdown of my Twitter DM inbox. I’ll also go right ahead and make a sweeping assumption that these represent the contents of any typical Twitter user’s inbox. I’m entirely unfamiliar with the concepts of market research or statistical analysis.
1. The “Click Me” Bait
This is a message where people try to get you to click on a link by implying that the link has something to do with you. It’s either a picture of you that’s so hilarious it makes everyone go both “LOL” and “OMG” or some truly nasty stuff people have been saying about you. In both cases, you’re expected to click the link to check out this “picture” or “rumour” for yourself. Real life example:
Dude, I barely know you. There’s a pretty good chance I don’t know your friend. Why the hell is he posting pictures of me?!
Needless to say, I’ve never followed any of the links in these messages. At best, doing so will lead me to some promotional page and infect my computer to spread the same link to my contacts. At worst, I’ll awaken the sleeping spirit of Twitter Cthulhu who will proceed to feast on the souls of the innocents. Admittedly, the latter scenario is somewhat less likely.
2. The Impersonal Thanks
It appears that there are many services that let people send a direct message to you after you follow them. Again, sounds like a good idea, but the end result is usually a generic “Thanks for your follow” from someone who hasn’t even realised I’ve followed them yet. More often than not these are combined with immediate self-promotion (see point 4.). Real life example:
I don’t mind a courteous message from someone welcoming me to their account. When it’s combined with links to 17 of their blogs and 10 books they’re trying to sell, it gets a bit annoying. Some of these messages go as far as to blatantly lie, in the form of “Thanks for the follow. Have just checked out your site, subscribed to your page, paid your electricity bills and told all your friends you’re awesome. Please buy my book”.
Wow, you have done all that five seconds after I’ve clicked “Follow” on your profile? Why’re you wasting such superpowers on Twitter? You should be out there fighting crime, or, at the very least, rescuing cats from trees.
3. The CAPTCHA Trap
There’s a pretty useful service out there, called True Twit. It aims to ensure that people following you are, in fact, people and not automated bots that want to drink your blood (that’s the danger of automated bots on Twitter, right?). Unfortunately, the way this is achieved is by sending you the following message with a clickable link:
The link takes you to a page where you prove you’re human. The service used to achieve this via those pesky CAPTCHAs. Recently, it “simplified” the process by making you slide bits of a picture around until they form a whole, with occasionally horrifying results:
On their website True Twit mention that they’re working on a way to validate people without the use of direct messages. Until then – alas, I have to see my inbox fill up with validation links and deformed monsters.
4. The Shameless Spam
Some people throw all of that subtlety and “Nice to meet you” foreplay out the window and just go straight to promoting whatever it is they’re currently selling. Real life example:
I’ve even gotten messages along the lines of “Hey RT this for me: (some kind of thing or stuff)”. Now, I will gladly (and voluntarily) tweet about things I personally find interesting, such as fellow blogger’s posts or their books, etc.
What I will not do is re-tweet a post that I have zero interest in, from a person whom I don’t really know, just because they’ve taken the effort to spam my inbox. Sorry buddy, but you’ll have to find another way to promote the “10 amazing ways to make money from home”. Also, if you’re making so much money from home, why can’t you afford proper advertising?
5. The Neutered Personal Message
On extremely rare occasions a genuine personal message lands in my inbox. It’s clear that the person took the time to get to know a bit about me and truly wants to connect. I respond in kind and we chat for a while…and that “while” is usually very short. That’s because some bright mind at Twitter thought: “You know what makes Twitter so successful? The 140 character limit! That’s literally the only thing we’ve got going for us!”
So now direct messages are also limited to 140 characters, which makes any sensible communication impossible to maintain for too long. Messages get split into many parts and get intertwined and confusing, especially if both people are writing at the same time. Yes, I have a short attention span and get easily thrown off, but…ooooh what’s that? Shiny!
Before you’re gonna point out the obvious, Sheriff McObvious of Obvious Town – yes, it’s very easy to exchange email or any other contact information and continue the conversation outside of Twitter. In fact, that’s pretty much what happens. Which only strengthens my argument about the uselessness of the Twitter DM inbox itself. If I need other social sites to continue a conversation, all my Twitter inbox can do is sit there collecting word clutter.
And that’s exactly what it does.
If you’re insightful, you may have gathered from above that I’m not quite fond of Twitter’s current DM inbox functionality. I hope that it eventually evolves to become a useful tool, but for now I’m just laughing sooooo hard at this picture somebody posted of you.