Pointless Babble?

Branching Veins

According to recent research carried out by Pear Analytics, 40.5% of all tweets are classifiable as ‘pointless babble,’ which the researchers defined as  ‘the “I am eating a sandwich now” tweets’.  You can read their full report which is downloadable as a white paper from their website; however, the BBC sum up the percentages here stating that:

it found that 40.5% could be classified as pointless babble, 37.5% as conversational and 8.7% as having pass-along value. Self promotion and spam stood at 5.85% and 3.75% respectively.

To be honest, I am dissatisfied with the classification of certain tweets as ‘pointless babble’.  In fact, I would go so far as to say it is those tweets which inform us about your choice of sandwich, the weather in your area, your indecision over which shoes to wear or your confession to treating yourself to a sneaky glass of rosé that brings the necessary level of humanity to your twitterstream.

It’s these small insights into the ordinary everyday that offer necessary points of connection; they offer a degree of commonality which others can relate to and respond to.  Following the sharing of the quotidian, conversation naturally flows, and it is from here that one can then go on to self-promote or offer those tweets defined as having a ‘pass-along’ value.  By offering up small, seemingly insignificant details, communication is sparked and friendships are born.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t follow bots.  I’m not interested in the firing out of information regardless of how relevant it may be to my interests.  I would much rather follow those that tweet about their everyday triumphs, struggles, decisions, disappointments, appetites.  I would much rather follow human beings with all their wonderful foibles, idiosyncrasies, oddities and failings.

For me the ‘babble’ is far from pointless – it’s the glue that sticks a community together; it’s the unapologetic celebration of human conversation.

How about you?  How do you feel about the classification ‘pointless babble’?  Do you think there’s too much of it on Twitter, or are you like me & revel in these invitations to connect?

27 responses to “Pointless Babble?

  1. I’m with ya, Amy! “Pointless babble”, indeed!

    Hey, if it were pointless, I’d simply tune it out. But it’s got a point to SOMEbody, yes?

  2. Well, exactly, Robert! Would there be so many engaging in the practice of sharing this kind of tweet if it didn’t offer some for of value? Just because that value is not tangibly available, does not render it ‘pointless’.

  3. Very well stated, Amy, and I agree completely. The charm of Twitter is its ability to connect people as people rather than artificial sales personae. We may be attracted to people whose “trivial” Tweets represent a smaller or larger percentage of the whole, but how is that any different from live interaction?

  4. OH, and by the way, the Mrs. and I just had a lunch of homemade grilled chicken quesadillas. Yum!

    There; that sure as heck wasn’t pointless to my stomach! 😀

  5. Absolutely – Twitter represents a return to a kind of idealised folk cultural production where the content is created by the many for the many rather than mass cultural production created by the few for the many. It’s not a soapbox; it’s an invitation to mingle, converse & connect. One of the ways that invitation is manifested is through these tweets defined by the authors of the report as ‘pointless babble’. It’s not ubiquitously understood throughout society, but it’s catching on 🙂

  6. Hi Amy,

    That’s very interesting research numbers…. but I think it totally depends on how you define ‘pointless’. I completely agree that you need some percentage of random life musings in your twitter stream in order to bring that human aspect. Plus, the degree of pointless depends on how much you respect or value the person. Someone that I look up to, or love their work or writing, makes their pointless tweet about their lunch very interesting. And, it shows that they are human. But, I also think that this has to be totally limited in your twitter stream… if all you tweet about is your daily life, it’s not going to provide much value to your readers. But the finesse involved in balancing self promotion, human interaction, humor, and sales is what makes Twitter so interesting to me…

    Great post on an interesting topic! 🙂

    ( @dreaminthelife )

  7. I’m sure human speech has been thoroughly researched and it was found that a certain percentage is pointless babble, but it tells us nothing about reality, relationships or contact.

    I think the media (or meejah) gets lots of hits every time they write about twitter, it’s like they want to own it (setting the trends, leading the opinion etc) the same way as professional journalists want to own the blogsphere. Sorry for the digression. 🙂

  8. I checked out Twitter two other times in the last year and a half and rejected it.

    Recently came back because of articles about using it for business promotion.

    Surprise: the one post I do for Biz, after the four I do for human communication, is not the only reason I’m sticking around; it’s those four Tweets I can relate to and respond to.

    Twitter is the friendliest, most positive social network platform I’ve ever been on…

  9. Great point! I find what they call pointless babble quite entertaining and good references. Reading the tweets of those I follow has become my routine and gives me the opportunity to “socialize virtually.”

  10. Amy,

    This post interests me quite a bit, becasue I’m relatively new to Twitter. I joined a year ago, but thought it was pointless by it’s very nature. But then I went to a SM Idea share at CodeBaby here in Colorado Springs and found out this was the primary platform they were focusing on to keep in touch with customers and the pulse of the SM community. So, I dove in and I’ve mostly been silent, only RTing or sharing something I thought was truely of value. I didn’t want to spam any of my followers. I agree that pointless is in the eye of the beholder. if you are really interested in the Peep you may find anything interesting. I think I will add a few more random life musings to my tweets and see how it goes.


  11. Pointlessness is something that is up to me and my followers to decide.

  12. Pointless babble is not what twitter is about. As you say it is virtual socialising and also introduction to interesting people with whom you can communicate at any level in an anonymous way. It is the relative anonymity which fires the imagination makes contact easier be it about big issues , favourite subjects , food or whatever. The real beauty of twitter is that you only twitter with people who interest you. How often can you unfollow in real life? Long live twittering.

  13. Absolutely. I’m sure plenty of twitter users post nothing but inane babble, and I’m sure they don’t receive many followers. When you know or are beginning to get to know someone, however, those little tidbits quickly add up and can tell you a lot about a person and their lifestyle.

    I took part in a project called Blog Every Day April, in which we did just that, and YA author Maureen Johnson made groups of buddies for those interested. Myself and the 3 girls I was grouped with have bonded a lot via twitter. Often one of us has said we like a tv show/film/book, and we’ve instantly found something new in common. I think it’s a wonderfully spontaneous way to get to know a person, little by little.

  14. Thanks to everyone for contributing to this fascinating discussion – your views have really added to my own understanding of the topic!

    Karen – think you’re spot on. If every individual user’s tweets consisted of 40% personal, 40% conversation, 10% retweetable content, 10% self promo, I wouldn’t think that was such a terrible ratio!

    Hettie – linguistics is a very well researched area, and in some ways this report is a rather lite version of conversation analysis in its attempt to categorise the different ‘types’ of tweets. Perhaps the issue is that they’ve applied too broad a brush. They’ve not taken into account the different kinds of capital available to Twitter users i.e. social capital, cultural capital, economic capital.

    Alexander – I find exactly the same thing. The community that Twitter facilitates is truly one of its key attributes.

    David – Absolutely – it’s that tweeting for social purpose that I feel has been fundamentally misunderstood by this report.

    Joe – You know, your followers are far less likely to feel spammed by your self-promotion if you take the time to socialise with them and strengthen your connection to them. Why not check out who some of your favourite tweeters are following and add some new follows, or join Mr Tweet and get recommendations that way. I found that Twitter really took off for me when I added and interacted with a wide range of interesting tweeters who understood & embraced the medium.

    Dave – ‘Pointless’ is most certainly in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? 🙂

    Mardi – Completely agree. It’s those social tweets that act as an invitation to connect. Without them we’d all just be tweeting into the void!

    Nicola – Thanks so much for sharing your experience of the Blog Every Day project – it absolutely validates my belief that Twitter facilitates the cohesion between individuals that have, more often than not, never met & generally know very little about one another. Those ‘pointless babble’ tweets allow us to discover the common ground that enables communication and connection.

  15. I’m glad you posted about this, Amy, because I read that article yesterday too and had vaguely similar thoughts about it, just nowhere near so well articulated!
    I think it’s impossible, or inadvisable, possibly both, to make such generalisations about Twitter. people have different Twitter experiences, don’t they? Limiting tweets to six subjective categories is the first mistake, and even then I can’t help wondering how many real people’s Twitterstreams reflect the proportions the research describes.

  16. I love Twitter and the little daily things which join us together, the commonality.

    My friend @thebookwright says that Twitter is like going down to the pub … some folk only talk about work, others about sport, others about their lives, and still others who transmit and don’t receive. Twitter is simply a manifestation online of natural offline conversations.

    Most people do business with people they like – how do you get to like someone? By finding out about them and what makes them tick. It’s social media … perhaps we should remember the word social more often!

    Great post Amy x

  17. Personally, I like my Twitter with the pointless babble, or “social interaction” as we lesser mortals call it, left in. As well as letting me know that my friends are still alive, and presumably well-fed, my fellow babblers often direct me to interesting websites. Like this one.

    And as this article points out, in addition to the poorly-defined categories a number of people mention, the study provides no comparison with the ratios of “pointless babble” to useful content in more conventional forms of conversation. But then from what I can gather, the whole study was all about market research for some kind of tweet-filter anyway, so it’s in the author’s iterest to play up any percieved signal-to-noise imbalance.

    Of course that doesn’t stop the popular media from getting hold of the wrong end of the stick and waving it about like a drum-major’s baton.

  18. I think you’re absolutely right. It’s that combination of being able to find useful information and make genuine connections while you’re at it that allows Twitter to work. The survey was a load of nonsense, going by the BBC article.

  19. I am a relative latecomer to Twitter having rebuffed it twice on the grounds of “pointless babble”.

    Like Alexander Zoltai above, I kept coming back and decided to try it. I have had a 100% positive experience and have “met” countless great people and made contact with many I knew of but had no great reason to email. Twitter has enabled a conversation and sharing of ideas and projects for me with people I admire and who make a generous contribution to my learning.

    I see Twitter as the most brilliantly organised dinner party where great thought has gone into creating the environment and bringing people together for any kind of connection be that business or small talk. This is a version of Jackie Walker’s pub analogy but I sense much more thought in setting up the context. The content is up to the participants! Which group you end up in depends on who has the wine bottle or the chocolates or the nicest “twinkle” in their eyes!

    With the recent DOS attack, I do wonder how long it can remain free. Someone has to pay for the infrastructure which will ensure we don’t suffer “cold turkey’ too often. What would we pay, I wonder?

  20. Sharon Hurley Hall

    Thanks for this well thought out response, Amy. I certainly don’t consider it pointless babble (except from the bots, of course). I think like anything else, you get out what you put in. I have a number of great online relationships fuelled only by Twitter and email – and they are all valuable.

  21. I think you’re absolutely right, Amy. “Pointless babble” is that, what makes it human for me. I bet in a few years computers can search for interesting urls and tweet them. It is the mixture of information and the human approach which makes Twitter important for me.

  22. Yes, thanks for stating the case. Yours is the second post that’s taken issue with this characterisation that I’ve read this morning. (See also: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10311596-71.html found via @woork )

    The thing that seems often missed is that Twitter is the ultimate “opt in”; if I’m not interested, I unfollow. Those people I do follow: I want to hear if their arthritic dog is grumpy today or if they’re stuck in traffic. They’re a certain variety of friend.

  23. I joined Twitter recently and most of it did look like pointless babble and gobbledegook to me. But that’s because I joined late and didn’t understand tinyurls. When I did, I then saw it as a lot of links scattered among the pointless trivia. When I began to follow a few folk, I started being able to tune into dialogues between people I knew, like twiddling the knob on a radio and finding a channel in a language I can speak. Then the trivia started to make sense because it felt more recognisable as the day to day connections we make while chatting to friends, to share each other’s lives, build trust and make folk smile.

    Twitter, like learning a new language, requires a motive based on communicating with others. I think my problem is that I’m a one to one person.

    I still haven’t learned to use it properly, and I do suspect a lot of folk misuse it and fritter away a large part of their lives on some keypad or another, but I no longer dismiss it. Folk I respect are full of praise for it and that inspires me to want to learn more about it.

  24. Great discussion here Amy. Unfortunately the researchers were indicating their bias in the categories formed which indicates the entire study is suspect. If they wanted to make a value judgement about the “pointless” tweets then I believe additional research would be required in an academic sense to define the perceived usefulness of the various types of tweets. My guess is that, as you and others here have said, many of the tweets in other categories would be as or more likely perceived as useless.

    When a phenomena like Twitter pops up folks want to define what makes it a success in broad general terms. Would these researchers also define telephone conversations as 50% pointless because they were about daily events? Things are always more complicated than that.

  25. Hi Amy, I love the way you’ve explored it – the research and conclusions gets to the heart of the misconception so many have about Twitter – that’s it’s a form of broadcasting, whereas in fact it’s a medium for building connections, networks, conversations and friendships.

    When you look at it through that lens the pointless babble makes perfect sense 🙂

    I only wish I had time to get there and babble pointelessly for a while !

    PS Exceptionally nice fish & potatoes for my tea 🙂

    PPS But the weather in Stirling’s been grim today 😉

  26. Here here for pointless babble!

    I don’t go to twitter for the news crawl version of a blogger’s blog. I go to twitter for glimpses of what the blogger/person is like. Twitter is the pass in the hall chatter of real life. Short and sweet, but the part of the day that builds relationships in a busy day.

    Thanks for the great article.

  27. Bring on the Babble I say! 🙂

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