[Update 9.40pm: It’s only 40 minutes since I posted this, but discussion has already turned to the topic of the government’s role in developing new services rather than the original Twitter-as-Chinese-whispers theme. Hey, join the discussion!]
Even though I’m one of Australia’s most prolific Twitter users, and even though it seems like I’ve spent half the week defending it from half-arsed criticism, I’m also well aware of its limitations. Like tonight.
Nicholas Gruen seriously says that the government should have created community good like Google, Facebook and Twitter. #gov2au
That was soon picked up by people who weren’t in the room, who hadn’t heard the context. Hours later we’re still seeing tweets like this one:
@skaye: “The Govt should have invented twitter, flickr…” LIKE WTF?? #gov2au *shudder* (via @NickHodge) They struggle with discounts on utes!
Notice how the content mutated as the message was passed on? “Created” becomes “invented”, Flickr is added to the mix, and the “community good” qualifier has vanished.
Here’s what really happened…
The conversation was about the kinds of online services government should be building versus what comes out of the private sector. The example was FixMyStreet.com, a community-based service which allows UK citizens to report and discuss local problems like graffiti, illegal dumping, broken paving and faulty street lighting.
An audience member said she was uncomfortable with this service being outside government. “These are core services for which governments collect rates and taxes,” she said.
Nicholas Gruen, the Chair of the Taskforce, agreed. This was the business of government, but they’re not actually doing it.
“It think it was the government’s job to build Google, Facebook, Twitter. I’m quite serious about that,” said Gruen. “It’s the government which is funded to build
community good .”
There ensued a healthy debate about the boundaries of public and private enterprise, with Gruen concluding, “We certainly have to be enthusiastic about the government doing their job better, but we also have to ask why the private sector seems to be better at innovation.”
Note the nuance. It’s the government’s job to build the community’s services — just like it’s their job to build roads, sewers and street lighting. But they didn’t, because they’re behind the pace.
Gruen never suggested anything akin to the nationalisation of Twitter. I’m sure he’d agree that the government wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to go about running it. But that’s how the Twitterverse interpreted his comment.
Twitter is about short, punchy messages. Only the short, punchy conference soundbites get tweeted. Out of context. And only the funny, wild or ridiculous ones get retweeted, drifting even further out of context as people re-edit them to allow room for their own editorialising.
Using Twitter as an in-conference back channel is one thing. But trying to “tweet a conference” to an external audience is, in my opinion, futile.
[Credit: Cartoon Twitter-bird courtesy of Hugh MacLeod. Like all of Hugh’s cartoons published online, it’s free to use.]