Twitter: Your ears must be burning!

I joined Twitter because it seemed like a good way to maintain  an accessible online presence. People who might know my work can get an idea for who I am and what issues interest me, can interact with me, etc. And it’s great! So far, I’m having a wonderful experience!

But one really weird thing has emerged about this particular social networking tool: its alert system and the way it basically “pings” anyone you talk about if they happen to have a Twitter account, too. Case in point, I tweeted at a friend going, “Hey, Stacey, loved that Susan Mallery book you recommended me.” Before I knew it, Susan Mallery herself was like, “Hey, thanks!” and I was all, “Eeeek!” I mean, it was very nice to hear from the author; we traded a few tweets and it was all well and good. But what if I had said, “Hey, Stacey, that Susan Mallery book blew chunks”? How mortifying would that have been?

And it’s not that I’m not confident enough to stand behind my opinions. Of course I am. But a tweet like that wasn’t really meant for Mallery to see directly. Why does using a person’s full name have to ping them?

Sure, anyone who visits your Twitter home page will see you talking about x, y and z, but there’s a difference between that and deliberately drawing the attention of a particular user. Generally, it’s not like you’re waving an author/actor/personality down, going, “Look at me! Talk to me!” just by virtue of mentioning them. 

I tend to think that only using the “@” is where that should come into play, like “Hey, @sarahjoybrown, you were great on B&B today.” Otherwise, there’s no need to let the subject know their ears should be burning.

I tweeted last week that people could download Kai’s song from Being Erica by doing an iTunes search for “Sebastian Pigott.” And then I realized Pigott has Twitter and it probably notified him. Ack! 

But beyond the issue of the “social graces” involved, these alerts are also just clunky in terms of navigating your Twitter account. 

Look at it this way: Someone like Lady Gaga, who has a bajillion followers and, then, besides that, probably has people talking about her constantly. Why should the people who are just mentioning her in passing clog up her “@” message list? What if Gaga just wants to see the people directly tweeting at her with her username? There’s no way to differentiate between the two.

ETA (3/16/10): When I originally posted this, I wasn’t taking into account that people create searches and deliberately LOOK for tweets using their names or other significant terminology. Sort of negates my whole “Ack! Pinging!” complaint if it is individual users doing it and not Twitter’s default. setting.

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9 thoughts on “Twitter: Your ears must be burning!

  1. This is a thought-provoking post, Mala! Twitter etiquette is such an evolving beast.

    I will admit to having searches saved for my name, and each of my book titles, and even some of my friends’ names and book titles. It’s nosy, I know, but it’s like the new Google alerts. I would never, ever reply to someone who said my book blew chunks (and it’s happened)! I think I have replied to people who said favorable things (heh, this may be how I found your blog? Did I tweet you out of the blue? eek, sorry!), but I’ve started being more careful about it. And after your post, I will be doubly careful about it.

    Anymore, simple Google searches will return tweets about me or my books, too – which I guess brings me to the other half of the issue, which is that Twitter feels falsely intimate. I’m so guilty of this–forgetting that anything I tweet can be searched, viewed, RT’d by the world. I just now added a widget to put my latest tweet on my blog, and it is really a good check on my happy fingers. Everything I tweet, I have to think – would I want this on my website, removed from any context? It is probably good for me to be more careful, but I’m sure it’s going to chill my tweeting. :/

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    • Twitter feels falsely intimate. This is an incredibly on point observation and one that applies to the Internet in general, I think. Because we build interpersonal connections on the Internet almost as easily now as we do in “real life,” there’s almost that sense of “Well, okay, if I’m talking to my circle of friends, it’s just like real life…only the people I’m addressing can ‘overhear me.'” Except that’s not the case. Everything we say is immortalized for eternity on a blog or a Twitter page or in a Google cache.

      I think you did find me because I raved about your books in a tweet and it was a wonderful bit of happenstance that I’m infinitely glad for! But I think the fact that people save searches and are alerted by mentions of certain things is one thing about Twitter that many people don’t really think about it. I sure didn’t, until recently.

      I tend to err on the side of “am I okay with tons of people knowing this about me” when I tweet something, and that generally works for me. But what if the guy from Make It Or Break It is on Twitter and sees that I think he’s hot? That’s not a travesty per se, but it is a little cringe-inducing. That, I think, is going to be where observing some etiquette on the site comes in.

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    • I don’t think it pings a user if you direct message someone, but I don’t know that I’ve tried DM-ing someone while mentioning another Twitter user. I’m assuming that’s a bug they would’ve worked out early on!

      And, yes, I’ve definitely learned that direct messaging can and should be used more often than I actually use it!

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  2. Interesting — I didn’t realize it pinged a person if you used their full name. Although I was added by a French author when I recommended her book to a friend, I assumed that she’d found me by doing a search either on her name or the title of her book.

    That said, the first thought that came to my mind reading your post was: what about people with reasonably common names? Does it ping every John Jackson or Bob Smith every time someone mentions one of them? For this reason alone, the @ symbol seems crucial: Twitter usernames are unique. Full names aren’t. I would eventually get pretty annoyed if I had a slightly more common name and got pinged every time someone mentioned one of my namemates!

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    • Maybe it only does it if the person has created a search for their full name? I really don’t even know, but it’s worth exploring.

      And, yeah, if it actually hones in on your whole name, does it ping every person with that name? Hmmm.

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      • I don’t know if there’s such a thing as automatic pinging? I use Tweetie as my app, and it lets me set up saved searches for things like “Tessa Dare” or “Goddess of the Hunt” and then it shows me when new tweets come up. Just like Google alerts. I have found a lot of links to reviews that way, which is probably how I found your blog, Mala!

        And yes, that means a saved search on “Goddess of the Hunt” brings me all the tweets from people selling Artemis earrings on Etsy or whatever, too. :)

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