Twitter, Transience, and Tempo

Anil Dash notes the double edged sword of Twitter's transience:

Perhaps the most important psychological innovation of Twitter is that it assumes you won't see every message that comes along. There's no count of unread items, and very little social cost to telling a friend that you missed their tweet. That convenience and social accommodation is incredibly valuable and an important contribution to the web.

However, by creating a lossy environment where individual tweets are disposable, there's also an environment where few will build the infrastructure to support broader, more meaningful conversations that could be catalyzed by a tweet. In many ways, this means the best tweets for advancing an idea are those that contain links to more permanent media.

He's right that the guilt-free nature of Twitter is a delight. You can go a few days without checking it and it's "okay." But the downside of such a set-up is captured in Anil's post title: If You Didn't Blog It, It Didn't Happen. This is not just about the 140 character limit of Twitter (though obviously that's a major impediment to conversations). Tweets come and go, and if it's gone, it's (basically) gone. As evidence of this, I'd link you to a "debate" David Frum and Virginia Postrel had last week on Twitter about health care policy, of which I read bits and pieces, but alas, it's too hard to find and impossible to reference in full.

Blog posts are easily linked-to, archived, tagged. Lengthy conversations can ensue in the posts and comments section. And an RSS reader efficiently captures everything (though it could do a better job at tracking multi-blog conversations). I'd give up Twitter without much of a fuss, whereas you'd have to fight me to death to take away my RSS reader and blogs. I'd miss Twitter, to be sure — it's fun to see an on-going stream of gestures from people I care about. But it's not core to my intellectual experience on the web.

Stowe Boyd concludes on a philosophical note:

Lurking behind Anil’s practicality are the more philosophical issues of time and transience. Yes, we don’t need to retain every tweet ever read or written. We can accept the fast and furious impermanence of most tweets, and the up tempo pace of the Twitter bloodstream. But we want to also operate at a slower pace, dealing with deeper and abiding interests, ideas, and connections. We need to be able to shift tempo without missing a beat.

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Here's my post on the evolving uses of Twitter.

One Response to Twitter, Transience, and Tempo

  1. You raise a very good point about how worthwhile Twitter can be as a medium for both marketing and networking. Business owners stress that you need to be active on social media (such as Twitter) and you need to be reaching out to followers and even competitors to help your cause, but I can’t help but wonder if this is truly the best way.

    As you point out, even the most meaningful Twitter conversations get lost in the shuffle. This begs the question of how useful they are to begin with. If two people are having a conversation that either one deems to be important, wouldn’t they switch to a different medium that would allow them more space and would properly record the outcome? If “the medium is the message” then the possible messages espoused via Twitter are severely limited.

    Also, and this is partially an aside, it makes me wonder how right people are when they say that gaining followers through serial-adding and major outreach efforts is the way to go. The feed I manage for the MPPI has only about 150 followers (I started it late summer last year, I believe) and yet I get almost as many clicks per link as many feeds that have twice or three times as many. I grew the base for the MPPI feed almost entirely by using hashtags and providing good content, not with any marketing gimmicks.

    Clearly there is a purpose to Twitter. But we must remember not to ask of it more than it can reasonably give. It is not the best place for real conversations, nor for providing much information (unless you have a good link to provide). As well, only a small percentage of people use it, so to devote excessive time to Twitter for marketing purposes is a waste. Treat it like the users do: a quick way to get links and tidbits out there and connect with whoever is watching at the moment. Provide quality content, don’t hustle, and above all don’t obsess — leave that for the blogs.

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