Twitter: colossal waste of time or *most* colossal waste of time?

By Phil Plait | December 27, 2008 5:37 pm
Twitter logo

So I’m checking my Twitter updates, and someone (coostreehouse) says that she found me using TwitterGrader, which gives everyone on Twitter a ranking. OK, what the heck, I check my TwitterGrade. Holy frak! I rank 199 out of 774,000 Twitterers.

I can’t help but think that’s bad. Like, maybe I need to do better things with my time.

But then I think that I do keep up with my friends that way, and pimp the blog that way, and read about people I like that way. And it’s not like it eats up more than 15 minutes a day. OK, maybe 30. Still, no biggie.

Then I check who follows me. Holy frak again! Brea Grant! Like, the chick from "Heroes" Brea Grant! Cool. I knew about most of the others: skeptics, scifi people, astronomy nerds like me. Wil.

Then I think, "Say, how many followers do I have right now?"

Answer: 2974! Holy frak cubed, that means I’m close to having 3000! Who will be my trimillennial follower? I’m not sure I know how to find out who that person will be/is. And if you are that special person, what do you win? Why, nothing! You lose! Good day sir!

Oops. Sorry. Willy Wonka moment there. But seriously, that’s pretty incredible. What I’d love to see is a demographic breakdown of followers: geographic location, gender, race (yes, the term is ill-defined, but still has useful properties for demographics), interests. Who out there will write that app? Or does it already exist?

When Twitter came out, I thought it was pretty useless. I changed my mind when, just a few days after I first signed up in April 2007, a gunman at Johnson Space Center held people hostage and I live-tweeted it; I got several emails from people in the aerospace biz thanking me because they couldn’t get updates at work through the web. Then I tweeted a Shuttle launch, and again got lots of support. Now I see its ability to reach people simply and easily (as well as tell them what I had for dinner, hooray for teh webz!) and I like it.

So join me! All you have to lose is colossal amounts of time.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Cool stuff

Comments (41)

  1. Colin J

    Already there Phil! @baded :)

  2. I have had Twitter for a couple of years but rarely remember to login. Maybe I will start using it… maybe I will….


    The great Groucho Marx once quipped: “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

  4. You don’t have to waste -TOO- much time, potential twitterers out there. If you follow only a few people, like 30 or so, then it isn’t too onerous a task to keep up with.

    There are twitterers who follow thousands in order to collect thousands of followers. Kinda like getting a ton of “friends” you never heard of on Facebook. These super-followers have tons of messages in their twitter page, so they certainly don’t read any of them, so twitter is just a one-way street for them to send the short twitter messages out to lots of others.

    So the trick is to be selective in the people you follow, and Phil is #1 on the list!

  5. RBH

    How the hell am I supposed to ration my obsessions when the intertubes keep creating new ones? Huh?

  6. It’s me! And I have the evidence to prove it. I expect my prize in the mail. ūüėõ

  7. Nemo

    Brea Grant just got so much hotter.

  8. jf

    Hi Phil,

    why has ‘race’ useful properties for demographics, apart from generating demographics for the purpose of wasting time? Just curious …

    ūüėČ Cheers, J√∂rg

  9. I just don’t get it to be honest. I have twitter, and I follow you, but I guess I just don’t have enough worthy thoughts that I feel like sharing. But tracking you, WilW, and Miles is fun.

  10. john_t

    I haven’t looked too closely at twitter — it always seemed like a colossal waste of time :) — so this might be a dumb question, but what exactly does it offer that you don’t get with general internet access from an internet-capable phone?

  11. jf

    follow-up on race in demographics:
    There is a nice story at “” about the increasing confusion about Barack Obama’s race.

    It got me smiling. I like the confusion because it hopefully gets people thinking about whether there is real value to this classification.

  12. jf: Well, as an example, there are very few Hispanics and African-Americans in the skeptic movement. Same for astronomy in general, I think (I am not sure of the numbers). It would be interesting to see the demographics of people following science and skepticism online, to see how we can better reach those groups who are underserved. Demographics aren’t just for advertising… though I guess you could classify this in that way. :)

  13. jf

    Phil wrote: “very few Hispanics and African-Americans in the skeptic movement. Same for astronomy in general, I think …”

    Suggest to your incoming president to enhance the funds for the PBS science program Nova and the marvelous Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    Hopefully BO’s educational plans will increase scientific literacy across all parts of the American society.

  14. Chris J

    Phil, I think the higher the number the worse off you are. I’m following 12 people, and only have 3 followers…

    My grade… 647440

  15. I have almost no followers at all, but I don’t follow anyone either. I’m fine with that. Basically, the way I use Twitter is as follows. On my blog I publish a monthly annotated collection of interesting, cool or quirky links that have caught my attention recently, and I use my Twitter account as a place to temporarily publish provisional nominations for the next month’s collection. It’s therefore possible to follow me on Twitter and get a sneak preview of what I might link to on my blog that month (including links that I end up rejecting), but essentially I use it as a tool for my own benefit (got to store those links somewhere) and not so much with the intention of being followed. Username “GoldHoarder”, if you’re interested.

  16. Kel

    Hi Phil! You don’t know me but I subscribed your blog weeks ago and thought you’ve a great blog.
    I’ve have never wrote before just because I have nothing to say to you, only to learn… but that’s not the point.

    About these social networks I think it’s the most waste of time ever. If you realize that 30 minutes a day represents almost 8 days/year you start to figure out maybe you have to enjoy your day better… maybe reading a book, doing some online shopping or even hanging out with your friends.

    Therefore, I have to confess, I just discovered your blog after cancel my accounts on facebook and orkut!!!

  17. davidlpf

    and another twitt.

  18. quasidog

    Reign in that ego mate.

  19. Maakuz

    …Twitter?… Time to find out what the heck is THAT.

  20. So it was useful twice or so. And it was usless how many times? And I am not sure if it is real “keeping in touch” or just illusion of it :(

  21. I was really hoping to be 3000 but, alas, I was more like 3070. My rank: 212,811
    I have some work to do but I usually only stay in touch with friends while work but we don’t want to IM for some reason…

  22. Well, if you’re keeping an informal count of gender demographics, you have at least one transsexual follower (me, now that I’ve noticed your Twitter feed). If the numbers are right, you should have at least one more, too.

  23. One of my coworker’s cats (sockington) has more followers than you.

    I thought that fact might be useful in answering the question in the blog post title :)

    (Yes, I am one of the cat’s followers. The feed frequently makes me laugh.)

  24. It’s actually not that huge of a time synch for us normal folks who don’t follow many people, or have a lot of followers.

  25. Charles Boyer

    It’s the quality of the information fed that’s important, not the number of subscribers, at least in my book.

  26. You may also want to check out yonkly. It’s the first “create your own” microblog to integrate with Twitter:

  27. I actually find the Facebook version of “Twitter” to be more generally useful than Twitter.

    However, particularly during the Mumbai terrorist attack, it seems Twitter can actually be useful in an emergency.

  28. Agitationist, I disagree with your premise in your post, that twitter is all about the mundane. You can say the same thing about any form of communication: email, talking, letters through the post. Most are about mundane things.

    You have to ignore the noise, and concentrate on the signal. I see a tremendous value in Twitter, if nothing else than keeping up with friends; I work from home and so I don’t interact daily with officemates, and most of my friends are scattered literally around the world.

    Also, I choose carefully who I follow, so I do get useful updates from various news organizations, websites I like, and so on.

  29. The Mad LOLScientist

    Oh maaaaaaaaaaaaaan, must you people feed my addiction? I’m now following GoldHoarder and sockington…… =^..^=

  30. Hello there,

    I am coostreehouse of twitter. Actually I am Laura Elizabeth, an author from North Carolina. My nickname has been Coo since I was a child. My last book is 541 Hucklebee Hound. A paranormal murder mystery. I would like to actually thank you for using my twitter name in your article. It generates more followers and interest in my book.

    Twitter has become a useful tool for me, promoting my book and basically getting my name out there. Making connections I’m not sure I would have had otherwise. For instance I was given the opportunity to do a interview with 1st Angel magazine. Heres the link: Also I received a promo spot on the Jack Bishop radio show out of Texas, serving millions. It was pretty awesome. I enjoy twitter it keeps me informed. check out my site at: Thanks again, Laura Elizabeth

  31. nanna

    well, i will follow you. i happen to be the mother of laura elizabeth of coostreehouse. she told me about you so, hi

  32. I am the mother of Laura Elizabeth of coostreehouse so I plan on following you too. I enjoyed the article. Thank you

  33. Follow me if you care too.


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