Twitter needs to teach people to tweet

Leaving the cozy tech bubble and talking to people in, you know, reality, yields plenty who view Twitter as an alien artifact

Technology journalists are often accused of blowing Twitter out of proportion, and for good reason.

Leaving the cozy tech bubble and talking to people in, you know, reality, yields plenty who view Twitter as an alien artifact. But the problem isn't that people haven't tried Twitter. Lots have, but then they give up. For the casual user, the social messaging service simply fails to prove its usefulness.

So I'm not surprised that Twitter plans to change up its home page next week. Co-founder Biz Stone told All Things Digital that the new page will "better show who we are." The plan is to include a search box, information on trends and -- here's the important part -- information on how Twitter can be used.

That's crucial, because I believe the claim that most Twitter quitters don't know what to do with the service.

As a writer, I went into Twitter with specific intentions. I wanted to interact with fellow technology journalists, along with other people in the field. I also wanted to stay on top of breaking news, which Twitter allows in an almost accidental fashion. Finally, for someone who works at home alone, Twitter provided a social network that isn't entirely unproductive, because I made it relevant to my job.

By comparison, friends of mine drop the service after a post or two, if they ever post at all. More importantly, they don't follow anyone because they don't know where to begin. If Twitter needs to address anything, it's not the home page, but those first steps after you get an account, when you're out in the Twitterverse with only a cold list of suggested users for guidance.

It's not clear how much Twitter intends to hold new users' hands. Stone said the home page will let visitors try the site without signing up, but that's not good enough. It needs to entice people and give them a sense of what to do, should they sign up. Like movies? Twitter should provide a few people to follow for news, a few for commentary and, of course, a bunch of celebrities. Want to connect with others in your area? Twitter should dig up the best sources for local news and happenings.

Once new users get a sense of how other people are using Twitter, they'll start posting in the same manner. Maybe then, that "What are you doing?" slogan will die, for good.

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Jared Newman

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