Don’t Box My Twitter In – Rules vs Play

A few recent Twitter posts from different places led me to expand on my thoughts around the ‘rules’ of social media. I experienced several instances where I wanted to respond to a tweet about ‘rules’ and I could never fit my response in to 140 characters. I finally thought, right-that’s what my blog is for-things that need more than 140 characters. 🙂

An article that my friend and colleague, Fred Beecher wrote for Johnny Holland magazine brings home the point that even though the iPhone as a device is not as usable as one would suspect, it it fun. Related to this notion of fun, we need to be allowed to play with Twitter.

Lately, I’ve seen many people tweeting about twitter rules. There are things people don’t like about the behavior of others and so they complain about it. But instead of acknowledging that these could be valid evolutionary uses of the tool, they call the uses out as wrong. I don’t think that is helpful. I also wouldn’t stop those people as this complaining in and of itself is a valid use of Twitter.

What am I talking about?

If you don’t use Twitter, this might be hard to understand. Fair warning.

I also want it to be clear that I’m not talking about people being called out for behavior that is otherwise socially unacceptable, such as death threats. Nor and I talking about things that might not be so wise such as ‘drunk tweeting’. I am also not talking about the rules that the Twitter service defines.

I’m talking about why I think it’s too early for people to define the rules of usage.

FACT ONE: Microblogging is a form of communication that has just entered our lives.

Creating too many rules about how to use a form of communication in its genesis doesn’t seem wise.

FACT TWO: Twitter, a tool to participate in Microblogging, is falsely constrained to 140 characters.

The designers could have easily chosen other limitations, but this is what they chose. In my experience with people-forcing them to be concise is a good thing. If we aren’t forced, we tend to be lazy or fast-which always create communication that is less clear. If it’s 140 characters, it’s hard to fit it in, therefore we need to think a little harder about what we are saying.

FACT THREE: People are using microblogging in new ways every day.

New uses inspire new ideas. We want to reach out to each other, it’s fun to figure out ways to share. The platform enables the connection, but the connections are undefined. We’ve never had the ability to be connected like this before. How we interact is a big part of allowing the growth.

FACT FOUR: Defining rules can cut off discovery.

Are we really ready to do that this soon? I for one am not interested in being boxed in by what others have found to be useful. We should share what has worked for us, but encourage discovery.

FACT FIVE: Humans don’t like change.

This is probably why when new things come along we want to put rules on them.

FACT SIX: The Internet has changed everything.

This is another reason I think rules may be of comfort. If a new thing comes along and you don’t understand it, it is preferable to begin to define it. This definition makes it less scary, less intimidating and less of a threat.

FACT SEVEN: Most rules are ACTUALLY preferences.

The rules I’ve seen espoused are mostly preferences. Since it is a personal medium, you may or may not like what others do or say. It is up to you to take action based on you. For example, perhaps someone you subscribe to on Twitter tweets too much at a conference, that isn’t really their problem, it is yours. You are free to unsubscribe from them.

FACT EIGHT: Most blog posts about Twitter rules are actually posts about breaking the rules.

When I did some further research on this, I found that searching for the rules only ended up bringing me to places that talked about the rules and ‘why I break them’.

While I understand the need in our human nature to create rules of engagement, I think this shifting social paradigm is too new & too nebulous to box in.

What do you think?


  1. I think the Twitter “rules” are a holdover from old school Netiquette. But those tended to apply to things like Usenet or forums. A conversation amongst multiple people on a similar thread or topic. Twitter is different in that it’s more a broadcast mechanism for one person. You can choose to hear one person’s broadcast or not. One Usenet you did not have this luxury.

    The other funny thing is that Usenet, forums, etc, usually have moderators. If someone cross posts, hijacks, etc, mods can come in and smack down the rule breaker. On Twitter, everyone is their own mod. As such it is up to you to set your own “rules” and apply them to your own account. And if your rule is anarchy, that is within your right, as it should be.

  2. That’s a good point about the holdover from Netiquette. Rules in those situations are definitely more applicable as something you do there has a greater affect on a larger number of people.

  3. I think twitter rules are just fluff pieces created by douchebags that want to gain attention at the expense of wasting everyone’s time. If there was ever a definition of a social media douche, it would be one that makes up netiquette rules for using social media, blogs, and twitter.

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