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Practical Analysis: Social Networks Get Low Marks As Sources Of IT Info

IT Web sites and trade magazines are tops for professional purposes, but Twitter ranks the lowest by far.
InformationWeek Analytics does a lot of surveys because we know that data on what your peers are up to is something you value. How do we know that? You guessed it: We surveyed you. There's no formal report that goes with this data, but I'll share some of it with you here. If you're a blogger or a Twitterer, or if you use another social networking platform to provide info to IT pros, the news isn't good.

In a series of questions, we asked where you get your information and what you think of those sources, including vendor Web sites, IT trade magazines, business magazines and newspapers, E-mail newsletters, broad business tech sites (such as Information Week.com), focused tech sites (such as IntelligentEnterprise.com), analyst sites, virtual trade shows and Webinars, social networks (such as LinkedIn and Facebook), tech bloggers, and Twitter.

We used a five-point scale to gauge your opinion of relevance, reliability, timeliness, and bias for each as they relate to your work. Top responses varied a bit from question to question, but typically your top sources of information include broad IT Web sites, IT trade magazines, business news sites, and analyst sites. The bottom three responses were much more consistent: tech bloggers, social networks, and Twitter, with Twitter ranking by far the lowest in a number of categories.

These results make a lot of sense to me, particularly the bottom three rankings for bloggers, social networking, and Twitter. Those information sources interest me, to the extent they do, because they're fun, not because they have any bearing on my work. Facebook is for family and friends, and if you have to use LinkedIn to get my "recommend," we don't know each other well enough. Bloggers are fun because of their unbridled opinions, but I don't trust them enough as a group to let them shape how I think about IT and business.

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What about Twitter? A core problem is its signal-to-noise ratio: There may be one in 50 tweets that I care about. The more Twits you follow, the worse it is--that's the nature of the service. More problematic, the fundamental nature of Twitter is the opposite of what I want from an information service. Professionally, I want information relevant to my work that's authoritative, accurate, and easy to find, and I want it when I need it.

The Twits I follow talk about the things you'd expect: Arlen Specter, Oracle and Sun, and what they had for lunch. Seldom does any of it relate to my job. If you're also an Ashton Kutcher or Oprah fan, Twitter's just another social tool. It's the opposite of what I want because it delivers mostly irrelevant information just when I don't need it.

IT pros seem to agree. Whereas IT Web sites like InformationWeek.com and business sites like BusinessWeek.com got a 3.8 on our scale for reliability, Twitter rated a 1.7. My guess is that Twitter will find a place alongside Facebook; those who find it fun will use it, but not primarily as a business tool. Of course, that low relevance to business doesn't bode well for Twitter's other problem: the lack of a business model.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

Register to see all reports at InformationWeekAnalytics.com.

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