I’m writing this in an airplane to Vancouver from Chicago. When I get home and read my mail, if recent trends continue I will hear about a few new Twitter followers, bringing the total up over one thousand. I think that with Twitter, something important is happening. But I’m having trouble figuring out what.
Let’s be accurate: This does not mean that there are a thousand actual human beings reading my deathless tweets. Quite a few people try out Twitter for a few days or weeks, find it stupid or trivial or irritating, and never go back. And then some “followers” are actually spammers: Twitter-feeds promoting some product or cause or person, who “follow” others on the chance that the follow-ee will have a look at them.
So, of the thousand, how many actually follow? No idea; “a few hundred” would be my guess.
What Is It? · Twitter is sort of an extended low-speed low-intensity bulletin board. Some people almost exclusively react to others’ tweets, some contribute mostly fresh little nuggets of wit or wisdom. A lot of tweets are just a link with a few words of commentary.
I personally use it to post little observations or cool links or minor snarks that don’t merit a blog entry. Plus, I’ll ask LazyWeb questions and answer a few of those from others.
The river-of-tweets I read contains a fairly steady conversational buzz around camera technology and online marketing and general randomness. Interestingly, I haven’t found that many really stimulating straight-tech feeds, the 140-character limit is a problem I guess. I follow real people except for @CBCNews and @BreakingNewsOn.
Why? · I enjoy it for the background-conversation-hum effect, sort of like being in a busy coffee shop. And there’ve been a few times when I’ve got professionally-important news way before I would have seen it on another channel, or that I might otherwise not have seen at all.
And, unlike a few other input streams, when I need to focus on something complex, I don’t really feel any regrets about just turning it off while I do that.
Finally, to be honest, I find that I enjoy the challenge of saying, in 140 characters or less, something worth the one or two seconds it takes someone out there to notice and read.
What Does It Mean? · Late last year I wrote On Communication, noting with interest that we’re getting new modes of human conversation on a fairly regular basis. I’ve drawn one more conclusion since then:
Since the process of conversation is close to the essence of what it means to be a human, even small changes in the enabling machinery can have pretty big impacts. I mean, Twitter isn’t that different from IRC or blogging; but even that slight delta seems to have found a significant niche in the ecosystem.
@ · When you create an instantly-recognizable, simple, Internet-wide addressing mode and it shows signs of sticking, well, that’s a big deal. “@timbray” has become a significant part of my identity.
Business? · At the moment, it seems irrelevant that Twitter doesn’t actually have what you’d call a business model. I suspect that they could exit in about fifteen minutes if they felt like selling out, but the smart thing to do, I’d say, is ride this rocket for a while until someone figures out which way it’s heading.