Am I a twit not to Twitter?

OK….I remember a year or so ago saying i’d never join Facebook, and then making myself look a pudding within a month or so when i started using Facebook to keep me in touch with friends after I stopped using another online service.

Now, around the same time I also made a brief investigation of the Twitter service – some more information here.  Whilst I can’t argue that it’s popular, and has attracted a vast amount of traffic and interest, including being used in the Australian bushfires and the Mumbai terrorist attacks, I’m still yet to be convinced of the value of telling the world precisely what I’m doing in 140 byte chunks.

Let’s face it, I’m too busy / idle to maintain my Facebook status more than once a day on average, so the idea of me managing to ‘tweet’ happily several times a day on the Twitter system is probably minimal.  And I’m not convinced of the overall value of most of the content that seems to be generated on Twitter; allow me to explain.

Too short!

To begin with, 140 characters is shorter than an SMS message, and unless you’re skilled at putting highly informative short messages together, the informational content of such messages is limited purely by the size of the message, unless you send a string of such messages.

Too distracting!

We then move on to whether Tweeting encourages the attention span of a boiled potatoe; it’s a disruptive technology in all the wrng ways – it simply disrupts your attention by a string of pointless inanities appearing in your Phone, Twitter client or web browser.

What does it do that other media doesn’t?

In terms of brevity you have SMS messages or Facebook statuses.  In terms of information content you have Email, blogs or Forum posts.  Tweets are ephemeral – they’re not naturally persistent and are as short lived as real birdsong.

So, what the Hell is it all about?  I’m aware of the use of this sort of technology in crisis situations but is this genuinely making appropriate use of the available technology?  I’m yet to be convinced that Twitter is anything but another toy for the technorati, and one whose lifespan in it’s current form is probably going to be limited by the emerging financial realism in the world.  I’ve heard of alternative uses – people using hardware to automatically place Twitter messages in to the ‘twittersphere’ form such things as potted plants and the old standby of IT departments, the drinks machine.  These messages are then picked up by a piece of software listening on Twitter for ‘tweets’ from the appropriate account.  This is nothing different to using UDP packets, for example, but at least there’s a more easily accessible interface here.

But I’m not convinced – someone, anyone, convince me of the value of this application, PLEASE!

You pays peanuts…..

And you get monkeys.

I assume most of us have heard this phrase. It’s become almost a mantra with me in my professional life because the last 6 months have exposed me to an interesting aspect of the freelance world that I’ve not been aware of until now; the fact that there are a Hell of a lot of people out there expecting a lot of work for next to nothing!

Allow me to elaborate…I get most of my work through ‘word of mouth’ – this has always been the way and after 20 odd years in IT it seems to have worked well. But I still like to chase the odd new client – after all, nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been sat on, as they say. In many ways, the availability of Internet web sites that allow people wishing work to be done to advertise their requireents for people like me to pick up the jobs should have ade things easier, but it hasn’t.

In fact, I’m beginning to regard such sites as one of the worst things that has happened to ‘professional’ freelancers and contractors, because they have totally distorted the market. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a firm believer in market forces but these sites are actually pushing the markets for freelance development work to the brink of extinction. And this isn’t going to be a rant about out-sourcing…

My concern is that people are posting requests for work like the following:

“Develop a highly interactive and very aesthetic media review website. A good example is Yahoo! TV. The site is going to cater for commercial considerations i.e web ads. Want a site that would load fast as well.
Hence, beautiful but efficient. Must do the job. “

This is a real advert, tweaked for punctuation and spelling in two places.  Now – this isn’t a hobby site, it’s not a charity.  The poster is open in that there will be advertising and will be catering for ‘commercial considerations’.  That’s the full ‘job brief’ against which people are expected to bid, by the way.  Now, let’s assume that we can put something together like the Yahoo TV site – here and ignore the content and imagery side of things for now.  It’s got forums, photo galleries, all sorts of cute stuff.  I wouldn’t even want to try tackling it – a wise man knows his limitations, after all.  But I can guess the sort of development time – you’re looking at the minimum of 2-3 man-months here, I’d estimate.  

And the suggested budget?  £250.  Yes, Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds.  No missing zeroes.

I cannot imagine the most desperate out sourcer being willing to work for that sort of money, let alone a programmer in the UK, US or Europe.

Oddly enough I came across this today:

An article in the Times dealing with Amazon’s Turk’ project which harnesses the available time of people to do online jobs of various sorts.  Where you might be expected to work for a couple of pence an hour, if that.

Digital exploitation?  You betcha.  There are projects that rely on the good nature of people to get things done – projects where the bottom line is a better, publically and freely available service, rather than profits to corporations who can already dictate terms to much of the online world.

Some years ago I was involved in film making and there was a very rich culture of ‘No-budget’ filming, where productions were put together with no budget except for the essentials of film stock or tape – everything else was borrowed, begged or blagged.  But part of the contract was that anyone involved would get a copy of the material for their own portfolio and an on-screen credit – ‘Credit and VHS’ – as well as being fed and watered on set.  This model could, of course, be exploited but rarely was, because the world of film making was relatively insular and someone pulling a fast one would immediately find it difficult to crew-up next time around.

Perhaps we need to start being similarly watchful in the information marketplace?