Register for updates vs. Follow me on Twitter

by phil on Wednesday Oct 29, 2008 12:17 PM

I've been a Twitter evangelist lately. I forget where I read this, but it was along the lines of, "What's the difference between Twitter and any other Web 2.0 start-up without a revenue-model? People are obsessed about it."

I'm spending more time going to Google Reader and Twitter these days. I used to go to MetaFilter and Jason Kottke everyday for a certain kind of Internet fix, the sight-seeing kind. I'm enjoying Reader and Twitter more because it's better when your friends are updating you. I guess when I was working at a company, I used to get that fix via all the links sent to me via instant message. Even then, though, the volume of links I'd get is not as much as what I get via Google Reader and Twitter.

What I want to zoom in on, though, is the "RSS" aspect of Google Reader and Twitter. One major use-case for both services, for me, is to "keep tabs on" something. Google Reader, for me, is a way to put in a bunch of RSS feeds for sites that I definitely want to know when they update, and I want to at least skim their updates. When I use Twitter to "keep tabs on" it's more for sources that I would like to know when they update. "Following" on Google Reader is formal, "Following" on Twitter is casual. On Google Reader, you have to hit a button to dismiss an RSS update. On Twitter, no action is required. On Google Reader you'll never miss anything. On Twitter, you may miss an update if you're busy and not checking in and it falls beyond the fold of the front page.

Both have limiting factors as to how many feeds you'll follow. On Google Reader, the limiting factor is how annoying it is for you to sift through unread items from a source. If the average quality of posts is greater than the inconvenience of clicking on it, or "marking as read," then it stays in your subscriptions. On Twitter, the limiting factor is the average value of the tweets on your front-page. If the value and novelty of a source's tweets is significantly lower than the average quality of tweets on your front-page, you'll unfollow them. Novelty is key. I keep following Barack Obama on Twitter because they post very infrequently, so when they do, it's a treat. I could see myself following many sources like Barack Obama that don't post frequently. I feel more apt to do this than, say, subscribe to an Obama email newsletter or an Obama RSS feed. I think The Onion hits the nail on the head again with their article, Obama Deletes Another Unread E-Mail. Yup, I've been there.

This is partly on my mind from a business-perspective. There's so many ways now to interact with users online. Where should a business focus? Should every company have a blog, twitter, facebook, myspace?

This is also personal because I see so many situations where I think, "I really wish I could keep tabs on this." For example, Disney Pictures has a teaser trailer for an upcoming Pixar film, Up. After the trailer's done, there's a link that says, "register for updates." I'm thinking, come on, it's 2008, let me subscribe to your RSS feed or, even better, let me just follow you on Twitter. Don't make me sign up, put in a username, password, provide an e-mail, verify that e-mail, etc. Too many steps! Or I find pages like, Pitchfork's Best New Music page that I really wish I didn't have to check every day to find out when it's updated. Or Peggy Noonan's Opinion Column. Why can't I get an RSS feed of that without signing up to WSJ online?

Is that another Holy Grail? Automatically keep tabs on a page? The problem is that the HTML of pages keep changing, especially with ads. But maybe Google or someone will figure out techniques for de-templatization. Or maybe there's a firefox plug-in that will monitor pages for updates.

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