More Thoughts on Twitter

Twitter cartoon image by Hugh MacLeod

Weird. I was thinking that today I might write about how I’ve been using Twitter recently, and I’ve just found myself writing in its defence.

Over on the Link mailing list were talking about Microsoft’s new Live Mesh when I noted:

It’s been interesting to watch the vastly different reaction here on Link with the (mostly) very positive reaction amongst the alpha geeks in my circle of friends on Twitter.

There, the reaction is all “When can I get a Mac version?” and “How can I hook this into X technology?” and about exploring the possibilities — what can be achieved. Here on Link, the reaction is often negative, “How can it go wrong?”, “Where do you sue?”.

Both reactions are necessary to provide a balanced response to a new technology. How to we get them to meet?

Systems administrator Craig Sanders was quick to respond, and I must admit I found his response to be almost a stereotype — something I later dubbed “old man syndrome”.

Craig wrote:

yes, well, there’s your explanation.

gross, but mostly accurate, generalisation follows:

Twitter is the lowest form of blogging, with everything worthwhile about blogging removed, and all the most annoying things about instant messaging added.

it is basically just an avenue for vacuous people to instantly spew every trivial thought that flitters through their minds. people don’t need more communications tools. they need to learn how to shut up. and how to think before opening their mouths.

learning to think before forming an opinion would be a good idea too. but that’s probably way too much to hope for, i’ll settle for people learning how to shut up.

My reply [slightly edited for the web rather than email]:

I don’t know how much you look at what’s been written about human communication, Craig, but this is just plain wrong. The VAST majority of human communication is what you’d call “trivial thoughts” — the constant stream of social bonding that holds any group together. It’s MEANT to be ephemeral, since it’s about the now.

I’ve written specifically on this, and there’s an excellent little Canadian video

This ephemeral communication is how we explore and solidify our own thoughts and beliefs. We DO say what comes into our heads. And then we monitor the reactions of those around us and decide whether we need to modify our thoughts or not. All Twitter does is put that constant chatter onto teh interwebs, so it can happen at a distance.

I must admit, all I’m detecting here is “old man syndrome”: that the new tool to do this task is “bad”, ‘cos there’s on “old” tool which you may use for this task. Or is that off the mark?

I don’t mean that particularly personally. I had much the same reaction to Twitter until I actually used it to stay in touch with some of my friends and colleagues. Some of them, as you’ll see from the comments on my blog post, still have that belief.

I think the reaction is akin to the parents of teenagers in 1960s American sitcoms, wondering what their kids were doing on the phone “all the time”. The answer is “forming and maintaining their network of friends, their social connections and their group bond with their peers, using different methods from their parents”.

I also observed that “Opinion-forming is a group activity”.

I reckon Twitter has hit a sweet spot in terms of message size, immediacy, accessibility and so on. Now all they need do is figure out some sort of business model to pay for it — because currently someone’s haemorrhaging money to make it possible.

[Credit: Cartoon Twitter-bird courtesy of Hugh MacLeod. Like all of Hugh’s cartoons published online, it’s free to use.]

3 Replies to “More Thoughts on Twitter”

  1. What is high on Craig’s agenda is that some Twitter feeds are syndicated out through planet aggregators like Planet Linux Australia. While the twittings of people may well be of interest to those who know the person, to a disinterested observer they are contextless, deranged ramblings of someone seemingly descending into madness.

    A lot more thought goes into the average blog post, and the best bloggers attempt to make them stand on their own, without needing to read forward or ahead. Twitter has none of this, and so should not be lumped in with blogs.

  2. Twitter’s business model should be freemium. As soon as there is a TwitterPro, I’m paying for it. I would gladly pay for a few friends too. Twitter is useful and there are plenty of more complex services that could be paid for. Fastest speed, search, groups, corporate use with local phone number (in Australia), multi-tweet. I just hope they don’t go with the ever-shrinking advertising market.

  3. @Simon Rumble: Craig and I continued the discussion on Link, which you may have seen, and indeed Planet Linux Australia was his gripe. I argued that this was not Twitter’s fault, but the fault of the humans who poured their Twitter feeds into their blogs, or the fault of PLA for failing to filter. “If you watch an open sewer,” I said, “you will see turds.” Craig did not agree with me.

    @Cait: Agreed, freemium is the way for Twitter to go. Advertising would kill it stone dead, I reckon.

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