It seems like we have a hard time forgetting about the "I" in Twitter. That was the conclusion by two Rutgers professors who studied the content of 3,000 tweets sent by 350 Twitter users.
The communication and information professors, Mor Naaman and Jeffrey Boase, found that there tend to be two types of Twitter folks. The majority, or 80 percent, were what they called "meformers" -- Twitter users who sent out messages that revolved around themselves, updating others about their activities or sharing thoughts and feelings.
The other 20 percent are "informers" -- people who were actually sharing information. Not surprisingly, the informers tended to have larger social networks and be more interactive. In their study, on average, informers had at least twice as many friends and followers compared to meformers. Another interesting note: women tended to be more "meformers" than men.
Because they're academics, Naaman and Boase came up with a technical description for not just Twitter, but all the short, instant ways we communicate these days, be it through a Facebook status update or other ways we end up in people's Newsfeeds: They called it social awareness streams.
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Naaman told me he thinks people talk about themselves simply because it's the easiest thing to do -- it's natural, and it is probably what we all talk about most of the time. He also thinks that as people get more used to these streams, like we had to do with e-mail, or even the telephone, usage will adapt. Naaman himself has even done this -- after doing the study, he told me he realized his Twitter account was much more meformer than informer, so he set up a new account.
Twitter's picked up on this too: Recently, the question "What are you doing?" was changed to "What's happening?" -- an evolution perhaps in how they see people using the site.
Because Naaman and Boase think social awareness streams are becoming an important part of the way some people communicate, both through public and personal relationships, they don't come down that hard on the meformers as you think they would.
"Although the meformers' self focus might be characterized by some as self-indulgent, these messages may play an important role in helping others maintain relationships," they wrote in their study.
I don't have a problem with meformers, per say -- there are plenty of "meformer"-focused Tweets can are interesting, funny or help you connect with someone. But as someone who spents a lot of time wading through social awareness streams, some days, I think I'm drowning in self-indulgence.
Naaman also told me that they've just really started getting into studying this -- so we'll be on the lookout for future findings. In the meantime, always worth remembering: if we are really about wanting to develop relationships on social networking sites, we should limit the screaming or whining about ourselves, start listening and interact.