Twitters, trolls and twattery

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.

I submitted this to the Guardian website, after Paul Carr had a pop at me and other detractors in his piece about Twitter. Seemed only fair that if someone is going to have a go at me, I was allowed some sort of right to reply. I didn’t think I would actually get it, but given that the quality control is occasionally low enough they’ll let some utter lunatics have a regular column, I thought there might be a chance. I suppose that the Editor of the Technology section was kind of hoping I’d give up and post it here anyway. Which makes the second to last paragraph have an interesting ring to it, don’t you think?

Anyway, here we are.

———-

Hello, my username is Plissken. According to a rather esteemed journalist I am a “techno-troll”. According to the less eloquent, someone “who stands on the sidelines throwing bricks” because all I can do is sit in my comfortable chair “bitching, winging [sic] and whining because once again they have been picked last for the team sport”.

As you have undoubtedly heard across every media outlet, but especially in the Guardian, an event was held called Twestival. It was a gathering of people who use Twitter in order to raise money for charity:water. This event was presented as the latest in an emerging social networking movement, the cutting edge of the Internet, the bright and shiny new future, the way things are to be.

My crime, the one that got me publicly called a “twatty commenter” behind my back by the very journalist who wrote the original piece, was to say “err… actually, no it isn’t”.

The concept of groups of people using online technology to organise isn’t new or unusual. In fact, it isn’t even a product of this century. The first time I met up with people who I had only spoken to online was in 1996, when we used an email list. There were already thriving communities on Usenet, MUDs or CIX which organised real life meetups. The New Hackers Dictionary mentions the word “boink” as “Usenet parties, used for almost any net social gathering, e.g., Miniboink, a small boink held by Nancy Gillett in 1988;”

Rather than Twestival being new, innovative and cutting edge, these gatherings were popular enough to have their own slang word twenty years ago.

Twitter isn’t a new technology. It effectively takes the idea of a blog with an RSS feed, slims it down to 140 characters and streamlines the interconnections between people. That is it. No social movement, no redefining the paradigms of online communication. Just 140 characters, squirted into the ether, looking for eyeballs to read them.

When I pointed to both this and that everyone involved in Twestival seemed to be in marketing or PR, I was attacked. Sometimes by Jemima Kiss, sometimes by other commenters and now by Paul Carr. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Twitter is that it has its own Hive Mind. Any sign of a dissenting voice is slapped down, accused of “just not getting it”. I’m either the old guard who can’t see the new reality or the one of those who doesn’t understand technology. I cannot be both at the same time. Twitter has particular traction among marketeers, that little self-contained, self-interested bubble that has turned the site into what is effectively its own off the shelf belief system. The followers huddle together, pointing fun at those who just don’t get it, like the cool kids in the playground ostracising the one with glasses. Except we know how it turns out – fast forward 20 years and the one with glasses is a multi-millionaire, the once cool kids are looking over multiple empty bottles of Chardonnay at the wreckage of their Second Life.

I was accused of hiding behind anonymity. Am I anonymous on the Guardian website? Only to the extent that I was never asked not to be. My real name is attached to my Guardian commenting account, as is my address. The system knows this. I’ve not used a throwaway Hotmail/GMail address and I’ve been signed up for several years. Yet I can only post under the name I signed up with – the name that I’ve used for the past 15 years in various guises. Users can’t click to email me and I refuse to shove a URL on the bottom of every post as an attempt to plug a blog or website.

Another accusation is that I shouldn’t have had a go at Twestival because it was raising money for a good cause. An interesting one, because at no point did I ever decry the cause. I did point out that this has happened before (fans of the TV show Firefly built CantStoptheSerenity.com which raised $107,000 last year alone by arranging showing of the three year old film Serenity). But the Twitter users, including Carr, seem to pull out the “charity” defence to defend any attack against the Twitter Hive Mind. To be honest, if you have to defend yourself by pointing out it is for charity, then you probably weren’t doing it for charity.

Carr: “By any metric you choose to use, the event was a gigantic success”.

On the contrary, this “Live Aid of the Tech World” appears to fall far short of its goal. Twestival.com updated today to $250,000 worldwide, an admirable amount but far, far short of the $1m the organisers hoped to raise. Andrew Orlowski pointed out in his article on The Register, pledges to Twestival.fm are also at just 25% of its stated goal. Of course, this money is much better than nothing at all, but by the metric I choose to use – that of reality and old fashioned mathematics – 25% of your target is not a gigantic success.

Carr again: “For all of Orlowski and co’s snide allusions to the “Nathan Barleys” who use Twitter, what they fail to realise is that it’s actually they who are the Nathans [..] What’s really going on – with Orlowski, with the commenters, with all of the techno-trolls who dismiss any coverage of Twitter, and Facebook and Wikipedia and web 2.0 services in general with a passion that borders on romantic hate – is not an expression of hate. But of fear.”

I never thought I would see the “I’m not, you are!” defence employed by a grown man. If I hated Web 2.0 so much, why do I have a Facebook account? I keep a blog, have even been known to correct rather than vandalise the odd Wiki page. I’m a developer, how exactly does Twitter threaten my world? If anything, to me Twitter is a business opportunity. I could write some software that integrates with Twitter, sell it, make money. In fact, I’d be one of the few people making money out of Web 2.0 – Twitter’s business model appears to be to give everything away, build a massive userbase and sell it to some sucker just before the bailiffs come in.

I know enough about Web 2.0 technologies to be able to separate the genuinely useful from the hype. Twitter is the fad of this six months, prior to that it was Facebook, before that, Second Life, MySpace, Flashmobs. Twitter isn’t “colliding the offline and online worlds”, it isn’t comparable to, as some Guardian commenters laughably did, the second coming of the mobile phone or the internet itself. It is a handy tool hijacked by a lot of self-absorbed marketing and media people desperate to latch onto something trendy and zeitgeisty in order to be trendy and zeitgeisty with each other.

If anyone is scared, it is you, Paul. I’m the kind of guy who points out that Your Imperial Majesty is as naked as the day he was born. I’m the guy who doesn’t need to look behind the curtain, because I help create the machinery there. In short, I am the kind of guy that you fear. To quote Bill Hicks, I am the one who as the consensus forms says “hang on a minute”.

When you say Twitter is “Geek going mainstream”, I say “What? Are you genuinely saying, with a straight face, that Twitter is more mainstream than YouTube and Facebook?

What really scares you is that you know that I’m not alone. Opening up articles to commenters is a double edged sword. We are quick to praise and even quicker to pour scorn. Yet you want the pedestal that the Guardian places you on to be able to air your views without the audience telling you you are wrong. You praise Web 2.0 for its inclusive social networking and then hate the fact that the technology allows people to tear your specious argument to pieces. You want the comments on to massage your ego and when we don’t blindly accept the world as you see it, you lash out at us.

At least I had the guts to do it here, on the very medium the piece was written in using the software provided for me to do so. But instead of being engaged in a debate, I got called a sad geek, a loner, a “twatty commenter” behind my back.

How very Web 2.0.

Comments

Curiosity

An excellent read, sir. Just a shame that the fool who wrote the original article probably won’t read it, or if he does then he’ll stick his fingers in his ears and proclaim that he can’t hear you, and that you’re so out of touch. Man.

Paul Carr

Interesting response. As I said in my comment on the Guardian site, it’s always good to hear disagreement. That’s what comments are for. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t taking a pop at you personally – to be honest I picked your comment at random from lots of negative comments on Jemima’s piece. Still, you’re entitled to your reply and it’s good that you wrote it. I’d be a little careful though in suggesting that I/the Guardian don’t want to hear criticism. You’ll note that I posted a comment on the Guardian site before you posted your link, offering to publish the reply on my blog.

Also, let’s not play the “grown man” card too quickly, or get too high minded at your opinions being criticised. Your comment was, let’s not forget, “the people involved says it all, really.” Hardly a cutting critique is it? I’ve heard more incitement heckles in comedy clubs. But hey ho, I suspect we’re not going to reach agreement on this, not least because we appear to be arguing about different things (I’m not defending Twitter, I’m saying using your dislike of it to blanket-dismiss Twestival is silly). But, as I say, I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

Best,

Paul
Mike Landers

The comments system is broken because I’ve self-built it in a hurry and it is rubbish. I’ll tidy it up and remove the double post in a few.
Matt Squirrell

Your comment was, let’s not forget, the people involved says it all, really.” Hardly a cutting critique is it? I’ve heard more incitement heckles in comedy clubs.”

I’d say it was about on par with “techno-troll”.

Charles Arthur

Two things: you say you “submitted” this to the Guardian website. I don’t quite know what you mean by that – did you send it to a person (by email), or post it as a comment somewhere? As to Andrew Orlowski’s piece – he commented about Twestival.fm, but seemed to me then to expand the point to make it seem that that was all that *Twestival* had raised.

And – they only got 25% of their target? OK, though how would you go about determining what a good target for something that hasn’t been tried before is? Are there many examples of what sort of target should have been set, so that future organisers will know? There is now, of course. But before it, there wasn’t. Which makes saying they “only” raised a quarter of the target sound so unbelievably snarky and mean. If they’d set a target of $100,000, would you now be applauding? Why not?

I’m always wary about claims for new technologies; they hardly ever live up to the promise. But to say Twitter is “not a new technology” because it uses existing *methods* – that’s like saying Google Maps wasn’t new because Microsoft had long before invented Ajax. It misses the point and the implications. See, I did say that you’d have a better chance of getting it on a blog than on guardian.co.uk. But you still get an audience. Isn’t life grand?

Charles Arthur, editor, Guardian Technology

Mike Landers

The link was emailed to tech@guardian.co.uk, along with several other emails to that address basically “proving” that Plissken was me.

Richard A Brooks

I have to say that this piece is very eloquently put – full marks to Paul Carr for pointing the way to your response – via Twitter ironically – but I think you gain the upper hand in this particular discussion

I remarked how a photo used to illustrate Twestival in the Guardian was the only photo, from all those on Flickr, that made the event look vaguely ‘cool’, indirectly remarking that everyone else appeared to be rather stereotypically ‘IT’ like in appearance. This does not detract from the fact that every penny earned for charity is indeed commendable, nor does imply that I would have looked out-of-place myself – because I most certainly wouldn’t…

Mike Landers

Which makes saying they only” raised a quarter of the target sound so unbelievably snarky and mean. If they’d set a target of $100,000, would you now be applauding? Why not?”

Yes, I would. Because I have no expectations. I wasn’t the one using “Live Aid of the Tech World” to describe it. I didn’t say I expect $1 million. I’m judging it by the standards the Twitter flag bearers used to publicise the event.

$250k is not to be sniffed at. I applaud their efforts. However, Paul used the phrase “by any metric you choose to use, it was a gigantic success”.

No. Not by the metric chosen by the organisers, or perhaps their cheerleaders. I wonder if it will be a salutory lesson in overhyping expectations.

(I had no idea this comments system was so fricking awful. BAD PROGRAMMER THINGY.)
Ted Maul

Before this becomes any more of a tit-for-tat oneupmanship game via each person’s own social media platform, I think the writer (of this blog) has given in to misplaced self-importance by feeling the need to compose this very long roundabout explanation of his stance, when in reality he was only implicated directly on one occasion in Paul Carr’s Guardian column. Also Curiosity clearly understimates a lot of things in life.

Curiosity

The only thing I fail to underestimate in life is my propensity for inserting my feet in my mouth.

Mike Landers

OK, comments fixed, so I’ve tidied this up. A double post from Paul and a reference to the problem with the double post removed. Also removed two postings from idiots.

Eric

Wow. Paul Carr rips Andrew Orlowski a new one and Mike Landers gets his panties in a bunch? All from an offhand comment in the original article?

First, the $250,000 – You say Paul is wrong in claiming that it was a giant success (since it’s ‘only’ 25% of the projected 1 million). Even if they ‘only’ raised $1000, it would still be a success – simply for the reason that there is now $1000 in a place where it formerly wasn’t. The amount is irrelevant (although the more the better of course), its the idea – the idea that people are willing to come together to contribute. To pick on an arbitrary number is just annoyingly nitpicky.

Second, the idea that twitter isn’t ‘redefining the paradigms of online communication’ – if VCs were as shortsighted as you, they would have never invested in a simple search engine called Google a few years back. Mediums like Google and Twitter don’t create revolutions overnight. They take the time to build their base. To not realise the incredible potential behind this medium just seems blatantly ignorant, considering you yourself are in the tech field.

Third, ‘like the cool kids in the playground ostracising the one with glasses. Except we know how it turns out – fast forward 20 years and the one with glasses is a multi-millionaire’ – I’m gonna take a wild guess and say it’s been a while (maybe even 20 years perhaps?) since your playground days. Tell me, are you a millionaire? Because if you can think outside the box for a second and truly grasp the possibilities of paradigm-shifting technologies (like twitter for example), then maybe, just maybe, you could become one. Eric p.s. I’m one.

Pundabaya

The thing is, Twestival is an example of people ignoring more effective, efficient methods of raising money for charity, because they’re too busy licking the ballsack of the new technology fad. Compare to Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play campaigns. A resolutely web 1.0 solution, that makes fuckloads of cash every time they run it.
Mike Landers

First, the $250,000 – You say Paul is wrong in claiming that it was a giant success (since it’s ‘only’ 25% of the projected 1 million). Even if they ‘only’ raised $1000, it would still be a success – simply for the reason that there is now $1000 in a place where it formerly wasn’t. The amount is irrelevant (although the more the better of course), its the idea – the idea that people are willing to come together to contribute. To pick on an arbitrary number is just annoyingly nitpicky.

Except it wasn’t me who picked that number and it wasn’t arbitrary. Twitter flag waver in Chief, Jemima Kiss wrote about it, and she won’t have plucked the number out of the air for this, and I quote again, the “Live Aid of the Tech World”. Of course, $250,000 is better than nothing and I keep saying that. But I find it instructive that the reality couldn’t live up to the hype – which is the whole reason why I am so pissed off with it all.

“Second, the idea that twitter isn’t ‘redefining the paradigms of online communication’ – if VCs were as shortsighted as you, they would have never invested in a simple search engine called Google a few years back.”

Eric, thank you so much for proving just how up their own backside the Twitter Hive Mind is. The Holy Triumvirate has been completed, Twitter has now been compared to the new mobile phone, the new Internet and now the new Google. In addition to being declared more mainstream than YouTube and Facebook.

Now all you have to do is explain how. How exactly is Twitter going to revolutionise the way people use the Internet as much as Google? Please, I’m all ears.
Frank

It was a bad lapse by The Guardian to run Paul Carr’s hysterical piece.

@charles arthur:
No charity effort should be above criticism. Twestival was very heavily promoted, and yet the Twestival attendees probably left more in change on the bus home than they donated to Twestival.

The Guardian seems keener to attack rival online news sites (and journalists) than it is to appraise Twitter and its participants.

eric

Sorry for the late reply. Was away on vacation. I typed out a long explanation regarding why twitter is such a big deal. And then TC posted a version on their blog – http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/03/05/its-time-to-start-thinking-of-twitter-as-a-search-engine/ It’s ok to not ‘get it’ Mike. At least you’re honest and that honesty can be appreciated. More opportunities for the rest of us 🙂

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: