The World Cup highlights all the ways Twitter is failing as a social network: Peter Nowak

Our feeds runneth over

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World Cup match with #worldcup covering it up

Big sporting and cultural events frequently swamp Twitter with unwanted noise. Is it any wonder old and new users alike are frustrated? (Agência Brasil)

Is it really any wonder that Twitter appears to be flaming out?

Recent months have brought a spate of bad news for the company/social media service, with user growth bottoming out, executives leaving the company and usage declining. Advertising revenue is growing, but that’s hardly good news for users.

Observers are suggesting a number of reasons for Twitter’s big stall. The Next Web’s weekend editor Owen Williams thinks growth isn’t happening because the service is making it too difficult for new users to find people worth following, while Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm believes it’s because the company is having trouble deciding on an overall focus.

Those are both true, but when it comes to my own declining usage, I can’t help but think of the nitty gritty of actually using Twitter. While it sometimes provides me with an instant source of boredom alleviation, more often than not it’s just blasting out a bunch of unwanted noise. That’s never been more true than this weekend, when my feed was overwhelmed with World Cup-related tweets.

It’s not that I have anything against soccer—ahem, football— in particular, it’s just that I’m personally not interested in sports. (There were similarly a lot of tweets about the Stanley Cup final last week that I also tried to ignore.) In fact, I can’t be bothered to get excited about any so-called shared cultural events, such as the Oscars or any of a host of music awards.

One of the beautiful things about Twitter is that every user can choose who they want to follow, and that usually entails finding people with similar interests, backgrounds or professions. But how is anyone supposed to know that that technology luminary or scientist they just followed is going to eventually let loose with a torrent of soccer-related tweets?

That goes both ways too. I spent last week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles and, while I certainly gained some followers through my video-game-related tweets, I’m sure I lost some too. Either way, conscientious users can’t help but be mindful of what they send out for fear of alienating followers.

There are ways to filter out unwanted topics, but it’s not simple and it can be more trouble than it’s worth, especially when something as broad and all-encompassing as the World Cup comes along.

If I were to filter mentions of soccer from my feed, for example, I might be left with only a handful of tweets to read (come to think of it… that might be nice). Combine this with another of Twitter’s problems—that it’s often a source of spoilers for things I do care about, like Game of Thrones plot points, and the alternative of simply not using it looks far more appealing.

There’s no doubt Twitter is a modern-day, real-time water cooler around which people from all over the world can gather to chat. But, just as with the real-world water cooler, some of us have work to do and don’t want to be part of conversations that don’t interest us.

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