Online Communications Methods

Twitter is a great tool for making connections. I think of it as a cross between email and instant messaging, combined with a dose of bulletin board and forums. What do I mean by that? Here is how I see these different technologies being commonly used:


Usually used for non-real time communication for things where an answer can wait anywhere from few minutes to several days or longer. All parties in the communication do not need to be present at the same time for email to be effective. Email is "directed messaging", that is to say, you specify the username(s) of the intended recipient(s). Barring security glitches or forwarding by a recipient, anyone not on the distribution list is not going to see the message.

Instant Messaging:

IM is usually used for interactive conversation. Very helpful for troubleshooting or actively working on a problem. If all parties are not available at the same time, IM does not work. Like email, IM is "directed messaging".


Forums are the modern equivalent of what started out being known as bulletin boards or BBS. BBS's were around before the internet became commonplace and provided "geeks of a feather" a place to hang together. Discussions and replies were mostly public to the members of the board. This provided a great way to have a lively discussion. This is typically less real time than IM, but frequently can get very close to real time. While they usually have a direct message function, forums are usually considered "public messaging" and messages are open either to all participants of the forum or to anyone on the internet.


Twitter only allows 140 characters in a message which can be considered a limitation or a time saver. Most of us have read email messages that were multiple pages long when the relevant information could have easily been contained in a half of a page. Twitter does allow for direct messages, but the primary consideration here are the public messages and what are called "at replies". "At replies" are messages that are intended for a specific recipient and are of the form @username. While targeting a specific user makes it easier for that user to see the message, the message is public. This means Twitter communication can be both targeted and public at the same time.

Direct Messages in Twitter:

While still limited to 140 characters, the dm option allows for a directed message without the public exposure. It is the subject of some controversy in the Twitter world, especially the use of "Auto DM's". Some people use automatic dm's to promote their websites. Others use them for an automatic greeting while others don't use them at all. Finally, some people object to them and will rant and rave about any automatic dm they get.

To try and get a handle on this topic, I have put a survey here and will be asking for votes and opinions to be posted here in the comments. How do you use Twitter, email and other communication? What do you think about direct messages on Twitter? Let me know here in the comments and over on Twitter.


Anonymous said…
Twitter is really more entertainment for me, because none of my friends use it and I am not a blogger or a seller of any product. I tend to use FB more to stay in touch w/ friends, but I like Twitter b/c I can follow news and personal interest items/blogs. I don't DM or even post updates (I am not a journalist, writer or peddler of goods). I just find it fascinating.
Stephen said…
Entertainment is certainly a valid use of Twitter. I know the fun side of Twitter can be a blast.

But you do not need to be a journalist or a writer to post on Twitter, so please join in the fun if you want. The more, the merrier!

Thanks for dropping by.

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