This is a four part thing that started with an annoyed comment on the website and ended up with me in the middle of The Guardian, The Register and several freelance journos. I thought I would save it for posterity just for interest. The comments left on my original blog have been preserved. The bottom of the page has links to the next bit.
I’ve started an argument on The Guardian website. I feel so proud.
It was provoked by an article about Twitter, the current in-thing for media junkies. For those who have better things to do than follow the latest fads, Twitter is like blogs for the terse. Post up a message in 140 characters or less and people can “follow” your comments, via a RSS feed.
That is it. Facebook for the kind of people for whom logging on to update their status to “Mike is eating his dinner” is too much like hard work. Russell Brand is on it. I expect he will post “Career doomed. Had phone call from Johnny Depp. Wants Jack Sparrow schtick back.”
In the hive mind that is Web 2.0, Twitter is the future of social communication or something. Look, they even invent “Twestivals”, where, and hold onto your fucking hats here, people get together and meet each other. I mean, how wild and fucking crazy! Truly ’tis the future of humanity. Good luck turning that into any kind of business model, by the way. The article is about Twestival, a global Twitter “event” that is described, and I quote, “The Live Aid of the tech world”. I’m not entirely sure that the author was being ironic. People used networking to get together and hold a party. Money was raised for charity. Apparently this is worth the front page of the Guardian Online.
Anyway here it is. You can guess who I am.
I disagree with your contention that Twitter is useless. I think it’s a genuinely new type of service that solves problems with other services. For one, it’s not at all like Facebook because following is asymmetric. You can follow people without their permission, much more like subscribing to a blog’s RSS feed. This is why celebrities can use it, for example, and why you get people doing one-liner group improv (http://textism.com/favrd/) over the service. They can have a large audience following them.
Secondly, in terms of content, yes, many people are writing banal things that very few people care about. So what? Twitter’s original use case (when the service was still initimately hooked up to SMS, which is less the case now) was for users to broadcast, say, “I’m going to the pub in an hour” to a group of their friends. That way, perhaps someone will say “hey, I’m not doing anything, I’ll come join you”. The key thing here was writing for an audience (of your friends). Thirdly, the much-used “I see my mates down the pub” argument: well, bully for you. I can’t. Between Twitter and Facebook, I’m updated on the random goings-on of a good few dozen scattered friends who I rarely get chance to see in person. Some of them have moved away, or were friends I met in University before I moved back here. Some of us have children and commitments that mean we can’t meet up all the time.
Fourthly, the 140 characters thing: brevity is a feature. It’s a feature when you’re writing because it’s almost impossible to procrastinate over writing an entry on Twitter. It’s a feature when you’re reading because even if you follow a hundred people writing ten times a day, it still only amounts to 20 minutes of reading — and with strong mobile phone device support from a number of Twitter clients, that’s 20 minutes of “dead time” waiting in queues, commuting, and suchlike. Not 20 minutes of otherwise-productive time. Fifthly, the social media self-promoting wankers. Yes, they’re wankers, what of it? It doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value in Twitter. The bottom line here, I feel, is that people feel increasingly isolated in modern society; they live in large cities, do not associate with our neighbours, and suchlike. The strong rise in social media web services is people trying to address that. And I don’t see the harm, and I genuinely don’t understand the violent backlash some people have against this — the comments in the Guardian thread being an example of that.