April 23, 2009

The Defense of Twitter

The other day some folks at a party asked me why twitter was useful and I was flabbergasted since at least three quarters of them use texting and other social media to communicate with me. I told them it was just another tool, take it or leave it.

A week later Mauren Dowd mocked twitter in print, serendipitously echoing my friends observations. I read it, yawned, and went on with my day.  Apparently, others didn’t:

Jason Kottke:

So when you run across a Twitter message like “we had chicken sandwitches & pepsi for breakfast” from someone who has around 30 followers, what’s really so odd about it? It’s just someone telling a few friends on Twitter what she might normally tell them on the phone, via email, in person, or in a telegram. If you aren’t one of the 30 followers, you never see the message…and if you do, you’re like the guy standing next to a conversing couple on the subway platform.

Sean Carroll:

The anti-Twitter crowd always hastens to explain that they are not, really, grumpy old Luddite curmudgeons. The reason why it’s necessary to make this point is, of course, because they are all grumpy old Luddite curmudgeons. And here’s how we know: a little-appreciated feature of the Twitter technology is that it’s completely optional! You don’t have to get involved. It’s okay, really. Nobody is forcing you. Now, when there is something new going around that nobody is forcing you to be involved with, there are a couple of possible non-curmudgeonly responses. One is: ignore it completely. Nothing wrong with that. Another is: give it a try, decide whether or not you like it; if so, your happiness has been marginally improved, and if not, leave and get on with your life. Simple!

Alex Balk:

Remember how when blogging started to get attention the whole gang of print journalists would snort derisively about how it wasn’t “really writing”? And then, a couple of years later, when their papers were dying off and ownership was so desperate for anything to staunch the flow of red ink that it forced them all to start blogging, and they were like, “Holy shit, blogging is hard!” Well, there was a certain protected class of columnists and reporters who, because they were so established, were not made to sully themselves by coding HTML and searching for pooping dog videos. You don’t make a Maureen Dowd blog, particularly when Jennifer 8. Lee will do it five hundred times a day and happily twitpimp the results.

Rex  Sorgatz:

There are all of these culturally conservative media types (especially here in new york) who are hanging dearly to a style — or more specifically, to the ideas they’ve built up over the past few years of how online publishing should work. Their resistance to social media is pure frustration — they had mastered a craft, blogging, which had started to find a defined, fixed style (a one-to-many publishing style, no less), but it was now being challenged by all this conversation. The confusion is exactly that — the collision of communication and publishing.

All these articles are worth the link click, particularly if you are on the fence about using the service. That said, the more interesting part of the conversation, IMHO, is not the justification of the technology, but sussing why people hate it so much. And, if Rex’s observation is true, then we are going to see this argument emerge again when the traditional models of print publishing are substantively challenged.


  1. Andrew Simone on April 23rd, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I neglected to mention Geoff Manaugh’s thoughts (via Waxy):

    “First, on the most obvious level, Twitter needs to be differentiated from what people write on Twitter. The fact that so many people now use Twitter as a public email system, or as a way to instant-message their friends in front of other people, is immaterial; Twitter is a note-taking technology, end of story. You take short-form notes with it, limited to 140 characters. The clichéd analogy here has been with Japanese haiku, but perhaps we might even reference the Oulipo: in other words, Twitter means that you are writing, but you are writing within constraints.”