The Case for Lurking on Twitter

When Twitter announced its slow user growth last week, the company's stock went into a tailspin. But as Herb Greenberg writes over at LinkedIn, what may be hurting the service most of all might be the common—and incorrect—assumption that to enjoy Twitter, one must tweet. Quite the contrary! Twitter's at its best when you don't.

Let's say this first: Twitter's not natural. It's confusing, it's intimidating, it's bizarre. On a purely functional level, you've got @ etiquette to master, along with manual versus pure retweeting distinctions. This many years in, still only a very few people actually understand a hashtag's true purpose. Twitter's not intuitive, and there's not much incentive to learn.

Besides, even if you're quick to master the mechanics of Twitter, the bigger hurdle to a new enlistee is that its language and flow are all its own. Stepping into Twitter is like stepping into an infinitely large high school cafeteria, except instead of tables and cliques, there are blue lines and canoes. Greenberg indicates that Twitter holdouts are most worried about sharing personal information; I'd argue that the social stress of retweets and favs is a contributing factor as well.

Twitter's a cascade, a waterfall of information and inside jokes and nonsense that moves too quickly to track in any logical and useful way unless you're a little bit obsessive. That's what makes it such a powerful tool, but also what makes it so alienating. It's hard to join a stampede in progress.

So... don't! It's okay! Join Twitter, sure, you should, it's very helpful for staying on top of breaking news, and it can be a grand diversion during, say, a criminally boring Super Bowl. But remember that joining Twitter and tweeting are two very different things. The former just requires a few minutes of following accounts—news organizations, comedians, athletes, @dril—and sitting back while they inform and entertain you. Make it your modern-day RSS feed.

As for the latter, well, if you don't think the world cares about your thoughts on the recent New Girl episode, it probably doesn't. And that's okay.

Twitter doesn't need tweeters. It needs lurkers. And if you've been holding out on joining because you find the idea of tweeting confusing, or dumb, or both? You're not wrong. But lurking is pretty damn great.