You stand in front of the crowd. Who stands behind you?

Signal, Noise, and Twitter

To those who don't know my background – in my college years I spent quite a while in home audio sales, helping customers find the right home theater for their needs. It was a fun job because it was all “want”, and the boom-years meant a lot of customers could afford (and really wanted) good quality home theaters. I had fun, my customers had fun, and all-in-all it was a great experience. One of the often overlooked stats for any piece of home theater gear was a ratio called signal-to-noise (S/N or SNR (signal noise ratio)), and the premise is pretty simple… You wanted as much signal (useful information) as possible, and as little noise (static and background) as possible. And that brings me to this little 140-character shootout we call

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Twitter. I'll be the first to admit I was late to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what the perk is. Unlike social networks like Facebook or even (gasp!) MySpace, Twitter is basically a 1-trick pony. You post your little note, and go about on your merry way. In theory, people follow your tweets because they're interested in what you have to say. But I've discovered Twitter suffers from a real serious signal vs. noise problem. The problem goes like this: You want to follow as many people as interest you as possible. They're all there, tweeting at random intervals. But there's no filter – no meaningful way of saying “give me this but not that”. You get someone's feed and it's an all-or-nothing experience. Once you've followed someone, your feed of

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incoming tweets expands – showing you their tweets in the process. And therein lies the noise issue… If you follow too few people, you may be underwhelmed by the useful information (signal). But the more people you follow, the more likely it is that you'll be overwhelmed by noise. And noise there is a plenty! Suddenly, in seeking signal, you've increased your noise, and the signal becomes harder to come by.

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a topic or keyword, but even there, you're forced to scour through endless re-tweets and subjective interpretations from people you don't know (and therefore are challenged to prove that the signal is useful or not). And the short-code links mean you can't really trust links that people are forced to post on their twitter feeds, because a bad apple might have slipped in a link to a malicious website without anyone noticing. In the end, I'm not opposed to Twitter. I think it's an interesting platform (even if I can't figure out how in the world these guys are supposed to be making money other than the typical “ad-space” play), but I think it's inhibited by its own inherent flaws. Too much noise, not enough signal. Now, I'll be right back – gotta go post about this new blog posting … On Twitter. Ps… If you're a “signal” person, feel free to give us a follow at @PropelPoint



One Response to “Signal, Noise, and Twitter”

  1. Vanita Timme August 20, 2010 10:32 am

    This is a great post about marketing. I’m a student just trying to learn more about this business and I really enjoyed reading your post. Keep up the great work!