According to research from a team at Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology, we think that 25% of tweets are not worth reading. The study found that, when asked to rate tweets by people they follow, only 36% of tweets were marked favourably, 25% were marked less favourably and the balance (39%) received no strong feeling either way.
Press coverage of this study has invariably interpreted this to mean that up to a quarter of what we say on Twitter is a waste of time (see the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph coverage of the research).
The research itself asked users to self-nominate themselves to take part and, in exchange for having their own tweets rated, we asked to rate samples of tweets from people they follow. As with much academic research, this does take them out of their normal context when using Twitter but the results are interesting and informative. Maybe not for the interpretation that is taken by some of those reporting on it, but for what it tells us about how we use Twitter. Or perhaps how it reinforces what we should already know.
People are not interested in everything that people say on Twitter. They are not even interested in everything that the people they choose to follow say. There should be nothing surprising or controversial about this. It is fairly normal in all our social interactions that we are more interested in some things and less interested in others. I’m mainly surprised that we are uninterested in only 25% of things that people we follow say on Twitter.
Twitter is a classic social network. People who use it by following people (rather than by following hashtags or search strings) make a choice about who to follow based on who they are, what they say in their biography and perhaps some of their tweets at the time that we choose to follow them. I am unlikely to share everything in common with them – I may be interested in their tweets about BBC Question Time on a Thursday, for example, but less interested in their Tweets about the Super Bowl. I am unlikely to find you interesting all the time. And that’s nothing personal. And nothing unusual.
So as a reader I am unlikely to find everything that anybody says on Twitter interesting – I mentally filter out what I want to read and what I don’t want to read. If I really don’t want to read things on a certain topic, I can always filter it out with Tweetdeck or the like.
Just as readers are not necessarily interested in reading everything, those who write tweets are not necessarily writing them to be read. There is a clear disconnect between the person writing the tweets and the people reading them. The writer is not (in most cases) thinking about who will be reading it and why. They are just saying something. Saying it because they want to. That in itself is motivation and on the rare occasion that a tweet will be retweeted or responded to they will get further gratification.
So we are not interested in everything even our closest friends say (probably true in real life and on Twitter). And people are often writing on Twitter for the act of writing something and not necessrily composing it for specific audience or a specific reaction. Given that most people follow a collection of people with many different interests, some of whom they know and some of whom they don’t, it surprises me that only 1 in 4 tweets that we see are not of interest to us. This study certainly doesn’t show that those Tweets are a waste of time.