It’s now been several months since I started using Twitter. I decided to try it because I wanted to give it a fair chance; maybe I would find out why so many people are so excited about it.

I haven’t. Twitter hasn’t really added anything to my life. I haven’t been able to answer the question “What is Twitter good for?”. I think I’m about done with it now.

Possible answers to “What is Twitter good for?”:

Reading: I can’t think of one thing I learned from reading Twitter that made me any smarter, happier, or improved my relationship with another person. (Who knows, maybe I’m reading the wrong people.) Reading Twitter has given me a few good laughs per day, but mostly it’s just lowered my productivity, made me feel more distracted, and increased the number of Firefox tabs I have open at a time.

Writing: Tweeting feels like shouting into a windstorm. It doesn’t start a conversation. Everyone’s talking at once, and nobody’s listening. Everything I’ve said as a tweet would have been better as a short blog post; at least it would have a chance of starting a conversation and getting some feedback.

Self-promotion: I know there are a few people who have read my blog posts because I tweeted the links who wouldn’t have read otherwise. It’s kind of like publishing an RSS feed; or rather, a paralell redundant system to RSS feeds. I’m vaguely considering keeping my Twitter account for the sole purpose of pushing links to blog posts.

Asking Questions: If you have a question and you’re not sure who the best person to ask is, you can publicly ask it on Twitter and hope someone answers. Once or twice I have gotten a quick response this way. It’s not very reliable, though.

Re-Tweeting: I don’t retweet links; I always ask myself, what would I be contributing to the Internet by doing so? And the answer is “nothing”. Most of the links that come up on Twitter are so-called “viral” links. It’s not a compliment to compare something to a virus. A viral link is one that has no value other than encouraging people to pass it on. It is not information you can act on; it does not educate or shape decisions. You read it, say “Huh; that’s interesting” and then there’s nothing to do with it except… show it to other people. I don’t want to be part of that game. Being a signal-repeater is a job for internet routing hardware, not humans.

Poetry: My favorite Twitter users are the ones who use the 140-character limit as a restriction to breed creativity, like a haiku or a koan. Like Shitmydadsays, Fireland, and feministhulk. These writers have turned Twitter into an artistic medium, and I respect that.

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After I found out what Google Buzz was doing, I turned it off as quickly as possible.

…or did I?

As if there weren’t already enough layers in this cake of failure, apparently the link at the bottom of GMail that said “Turn off Buzz” does not actually turn off Buzz – it removes the Buzz cruft from the GMail interface, but it leaves you in the network.

So in an attempt to really and truly escape from Buzz, I went to my Google profile page, where I found a checkbox (checked by default!) saying “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me”:

I unchecked that. Then I went to my GMail account, clicked on Settings, and found the same option again. There was also a link that said “Disable Google Buzz”, which sounded pretty good, so I clicked that too:

So now I should be completely out of the woods, right? To double-check, I went and took a look at the public Google profile of Aza, one of my friends who was actively using Buzz. And there I saw a message that said “Aza is following you”:

Aza is following me? So is Buzz really turned off or not? I’m still not sure what’s going on here.

[Edited to add]: Apparently I needed to turn Buzz back on so that I could go in and click “block” on each follower, one by one, until the list was empty, and then turn it off again.

In a recent post, I wondered whether it’s possible to opt out of social networking given that your friends might be entering your email address into Facebook’s database without your knowledge.

Turns out this was timely, because less than a week after that post, Google released Buzz.

Google Buzz, as I’m sure you know by now, had a huge privacy flaw in it: it automatically, for all GMail users, created a social graph out of the user’s most-often-emailed people. And then it made that graph public on the user’s Google profile page.

Google’s defense was that that the graph only became public once you made your first Buzz post, and that there was a check box when making that post which would opt you out of sharing your graph. This defense is weaksauce! Here’s why.

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So I hear there’s this website called “The Facebook” that is really popular with the kids these days, and I decided to check it out…

Kidding, kidding. Of course I know what Facebook is. I’ve just been choosing not to participate. The whole “social networking” thing doesn’t offer me anything I want that I can’t already do through e-mail or by building websites. (I recognize that I am atypical in this regard).

I actually tried out Facebook back when it was university-students-only. I built a profile, linked it to my friends, and then said “Well, now what? I guess I’m done.” And I never went back. Eventually I deleted my profile, just to avoid spreading outdated information about myself.

Of course, Facebook now is not really the same application as Facebook in 2004. With over 350 million users (as many as Firefox), it forms a significant part of how many people experience the Internet, and as such it shapes their expectations for how web interfaces should look and feel, as well as how their real-life relationships should be represented in software.

This was the argument given by many of my coworkers, who told me that I ought to at least try out the modern Facebook, so that I could better understand where many of our users are coming from.

So I went to Facebook and started creating an account. I entered my first and last name and email address, and Facebook showed me a page saying “We think these people might be your friends”. There were several dozen people there who I actually know, mixed in with several dozen who I don’t.

Wait a minute, How does Facebook know who my friends are?? Remember, I hadn’t told them anything except an email address at this point. I was disturbed by how much they knew about me. More than disturbed. I was freaked out.

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