John is Still not a Twit

If you thought I was finished angrily shaking my fist at Twitter, you were not alone.  I had been prepared to leave the subject well enough alone, until two articles came to my attention and my sense of self-importance started tingling.  So sit back, relax and enjoy as I put on my bloggers’ irony blinders and deliver my second and (hopefully) final Twitter-related rant:

Popular New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently published an interview she conducted with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.  Though I cannot confirm it, the tone of the article suggests to me that she was doing her best Colbert Report imitation throughout the interview, as her questions are so drastically different from traditional interviewer questions and rival Colbert’s in terms of how ridiculously blunt and insulting they are.  I’m fairly certain that no journalist for the New York Times would ask questions like “Did you know you were designing a toy for bored celebrities and high school girls?”, “Why did you think the answer to e-mail was a new kind of e-mail?”, or “Was there anything in your childhood that led you to want to destroy civilization as we know it?” With that in mind, the interview takes on a very different feel.  Stone and Williams match Dowd’s wit admirably, responding the question of whether or not Shakespeare would have used Twitter by pointing out that “brevity is the soul of wit.”

There are a few particularly choice soundbytes that stood out to me as a reluctant adopter of the software.  “Twitter seems like telegrams without the news” rings true to me, and reminds me of ironic comments about telegraphs being the “wave of the future” made during the dawn of text messaging.  After all, it’s got the space limitations and the near-instantaneous delivery time of telegraphs, but there is no filter whatsoever with regard to content (not even the passive filter of people having to pay by the letter.)

Not everyone is as amused by Dowd’s article as I was, however.  The author of BLDGBLOG’s article, “How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter“, takes umbrage to her sarcastic questions and what they may imply.  The article is interesting for two reasons: 1) It seems to be a great example of someone missing the point of an article, and 2) It positions Twitter as something I had never seen it as before: A tool specifically designed for personal note-taking.  The author wisely calls for a separation of Twitter’s function and its current application:

“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.”

I found this to be not the end, but the beginning of a whole different Twitter story.  The idea that anyone would use Twitter to take personal notes that are not intended to be read by everyone and no-one was completely foreign to me.  It does seem like a bit of a waste of Twitter’s resources, though, considering any cell phone with a keypad has a “notepad” feature that will do exactly the same thing, and any computer worth its salt has some form of word processor.  Is Twitter then simply a more efficient or effective way to organize one’s thoughts?  Without the ability to re-order Tweets, I remain skeptical.  I just don’t see why Kafka, or Sappho, or Shakespeare, or Heraclitus would have bothered with it had they been alive to experience it.  If people are use Twitter to take personal notes, why would anyone else care about it?  (After all, everyone wants everyone else to care about their twitter feed.  That seems to be the main attraction: Other people will hang on your every word, no matter how trivial!)  A Twitter of that sort would not be able to generate or sustain the hype that its current application has.  Marketers might still use it to mine for research data (if they can determine how to account for the obvious self-selection bias inherent to Twittering) but the “social networking” piece of the puzzle goes right out the window.

All of that is not to say that I disagree with everything in the article, however.  It does make some excellent points regarding Twitter’s versatility as a software program, and the importance of not judging a platform by its least important and most inane applications.  I do, however, think that before Twitter can be taken seriously as the golden child of the New Age of Media, it needs to develop effective methods of filtering content.  There’s simply too much junk floating through the Twittersphere, and no easy way to find anything of quality.  Sure, you can search by hashtags for specific words, but use of hashtagged words does nothing to filter the worth-reading from the not-worth-reading for any individual potential reader.  The author compares Twitter to ball-point pens in terms of technology with countless applications, but a key difference is the fact that someone who wants to read a manuscript of a certain calibre written with a ball-point pen can go to a library and find exactly what they’re looking for (usually with the help of a librarian,) while someone looking for quality tweets might as well be looking for a white whale in the Indian Ocean.

Did someone say whale? What a coincidence!

Did someone say whale? What a coincidence!

To sum this entry into tweet-size (without resorting to tinyurl for links):

1) Maureen Dowd and the Twitter founders spar re: Twitter’s potential and actual uses.  Hilarity ensues.

2) A blogger (I didn’t see his/her name on the piece) thinks Maureen Dowd is arrogant and elitist, and that Twitter is at its heart a note-taking tool.

It’s still not compelling enough to make me want to use it, though, be it for note-taking, bulk e-mail, or SMS blogging.

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