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4.5 things Twitter teaches us

You can tell that Twitter has added something important to the ecosystem by the volume of the snickering. If you dismiss it by asking “Why do I care what you had for breakfast?”, there are only two choices. First, you’re saying everyone on Twitter is an idiot. Second, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. As a Twitterer (dweinberger), I’m going to go with Option #2.

Twitter’s success tells us a lot…including the following 4.5 points:

1. Twitter in its native form assumes we’re ok with not keeping up with the abundance. Tweets are going to scroll by when you’re not looking, and you’re never going to see them. Twitter assumes you will let them go, the way most of us cannot leave unread the messages in our inbox.

2. Social asymmetry addresses the scaling problem. At Twitter, the people you follow are not necessarily the people who are following you. That’s exactly not how mailing lists and weekly status meetings work, and Twitter’s approach impedes the back-and-forth development of ideas. But, maybe that’s not what Twitter is primarily about. And the asymmetry means that some people can have lots of followers but still participate as listeners.

2.5. (Maybe in an age of abundance, the back and forth development of ideas isn’t the only process. Sure, having a small group kick around an idea often works. But maybe in some instances it also works for an idea to be lobbed like a beach ball from one group to another, each putting their own spin on it.)

3. Twitter is an app that scales as as platform. That is, it comes with a set of features that makes it usable and popular. But it’s open enough to enable users and third parties to add capabilities that make it useful for what it wasn’t designed for. For example, a convention has arisen among users that “RT” will stand for “re-tweet” when you want to publish someone else’s tweet to one’s own followers.

4. We’ll complicate simple things as much as we have to. We’ll invent “hashtags” (tags that begin with #, embedded within a tweet) to let people find tweets on a particular topic, getting past the “it already scrolled past” issue. We’ll invent layers upon layers of aggregators of tweets. We’ll just bang away on it as hard as we have to in order to accrete significance. We truly are meaning monkeys. [Tags: ]

30 Responses to “4.5 things Twitter teaches us”

  1. >>Twitter assumes you will let them go, the way most of us cannot leave unread the messages in 0ur inbox.

    I don’t understand this line. I have plenty of unread messages in my inbox, don’t most people?

  2. There’s a chance that Twitter has taught me treat email like the river that it is. I have about 1,500 unread messages from the past year, but I feel only the smallest twinge of guilt about it.

  3. alexa and casey, I must be more anal retentive (and probably older) than you. I feel an obligation to keep up with email. So, the unread stuff in my inbox is spam, etc.

  4. 1. twitter messages go away from the memory but not from the archives. So there is a subtle difference in terms of the organic nature of the message.

    2. On two, I was also surprised by the mailing-list and the kind of “have to read” mails. I have seen that across generations (not a question of age) around me. Mail is a tool and used in many fashions for oneliner, bills, love letters, poetry, advertisements, etc. Some of my mails deserve reading, some not. I wonder if it’s due to the way people use their mail clients. All my mail goes into a dated space (all mail received in March 2009 goes to /2009/03/). It is just a convenient archiving patterns. I do not filter on topics on the server side. For example I do not create a specific folder for mailing-list “kungfu-cooking-master”. Still my inbox is empty (dated space above). The way I deal with my mail is that I create contexts with spotlight (Apple Mail). for example, I will create a dynamic context which says

    “smart mailbox for all emails to kungfu-cooking-master in the last two weeks.”

    On some I even add some keywords to filter a bit more. I do the same in my feed aggregator (netnewswire). There are something 3500 feed items a day (including twitters, blogs, flickrs, etc.) but except for specific blogs, I read mostly through keywords smart lists.

    The benefit is that something an item of information can be in multiple contexts.

  5. for me my twitter use has changed a lot since I started. At 1st it was just me and friends from all over the world being goofy. Now it’s more NY-centric (I live in NYC) and this morning I woke up and read all the tweets about what people had done on Sat nite and it was kind one of those fictional narratives of bits and pieces. I started thinking about japanese cellphone novels and the possibility of twitterfic (i’m sure it’s been done).

  6. Interesting insights – and I’d say most of it holds true for how Tweeters do things. To simplify Twitter to non-users, I’d say Twitter is simply a mindfeed of people you want to follow.

    An open mindfeed – that’s what makes it awesome. Simply.

  7. Personally, I don’t really understand what twitter is all about. It’s just a bunch of people giving their thoughts.

  8. Twitter is a constant flow of human thought — either a raging river or a trickling brook, depending on how you filter it. Sure, a lot of it is mundane, but there are also gems being carried in the flow. What is throw-away and what is valuable is entirely subjective, but to get what interests you you have to accept both. And the Internet being what it is, one comment or link can lead in many directions or down a long interesting path.

    As for the messages you “miss” that is easily remedied. Use TweetDeck or some other utility to filter the stream and you will see only those messages (past/present/future) that are of interest to you.

    It’s like being in a colossal room with thousands of people and having the ability to pay attention to any or all of them as you choose at any moment. Quite interesting, really.

  9. The two comments before mine (at least as I write — from K Karkhanis and audrey) are a perfect pair, saying the same thing, but with obviously different takes on what that thing means. And I’m confident that of the two, audrey’s the one who hasn’t ‘been there’ much, if at all.

    “A bunch of people, giving their thoughts” is *fantastic*, if those people are the ones you care about. Those thoughts can be fascinating, if they’re about subjects that fascinate you.

    You can be in the virtual, daily, intimate-like presence of gifted, talented, clever, helpful, insightful knowledgeable people sharing quick, concisely-expressed thoughts about, and reactions to, matters that you’re passionate about.

    That’s what the hell it’s about.

  10. Mindfeed. How perfect. We zoom around and surf people’s mindfeeds…Whoooooooo

  11. Twitter is fast becoming an instant exchange of ideas, information, news, knowledge and networking. It still is interspersed with nonsensical trivia and “I just had a poppyseed bagel”, but that is more to keep the rhythm and stream of consciousness going, more than anything else. It’s kind of like standing in the lobby listening to the tv news report, watching the guards security cam, overhearing the local gossip of who’s doin who, catching a snippet from the two executives heading up the elevator, noticing what book they are carrying, and catching the tabloid headline tossed away in the trash. You can choose to focus on who or what you wish.

    Sometimes we connect.

    I hope that helps

  12. Twitter is low-level celebrity for the chattering class.

    I have a Twitter account, to which I post an occasional column update or so. But I WILL NOT play the game again, of BigHeads dominating attention, versus oh little Z-lister ignored way down the bottom, be happy chatting with your friends. With Twitter that effect is even more stark and raw than it is with blog-evangelism.

  13. […] to apologize for this and if you have any questions you can sod off. [mashable] Also, here are 4.5 lessons from Twitter. I don’t really know if I learned any of […]

  14. I broke out of watching really old Buffy reruns just long enough to encounter this…

    Hope it’s OK with you that I didn’t actually read your post. reading blogs is so 2007.

  15. To Seth Finkelstein, I feel sorry for you. You don’t get it.
    To audrey – keep reading. You’re almost there.
    Tegan’s comment is perfect.

    Great article.

  16. Uh, what if option #2 was wrong?

  17. […] Weinberger just wrote a blog post that I think does sum up well why twitter is such a big success from a technological view. […]

  18. Unread messages? How is that possible…If you have unread messages your to do list must be undone.. your list of books to read undone etc… There should be no unread messages in the inbox.

  19. […] The term “Twitter” is exploding on Facebook, beware of over-tweeting at the office and 4.5 things Twitter teaches us. […]

  20. In response to Caliburn Susanto:
    Although I just recently rediscovered twitter (had an account for a couple of years but never used it), I can sense some incredible potential for applications. The room full of people analogy where you can tune in to select groups is spot on. After sifting through a couple of hundred twitter apps, and digesting a couple dozen of them I still want some better filters. I want to follow everyone, but be able to sort them on the fly by specific interests (maybe have a default interest filter). Even a dedicated web marketing program sales person can share a link to a forgotten yet fantastic swarm intelligence article that piques my interest.

  21. “To Seth Finkelstein, I feel sorry for you. You don’t get it.”

    How insuffrably patronising.

  22. […] Weinberger offers 4.5 Things Twitter Teaches Us, in which he makes some interesting observations about the microblogging […]

  23. First, disclosure: I do not participate in Twitter, either as a follower or Tweeter.

    Since Twitter is the topic for discussion I have to share this, since it is on point, and funny, whether or not accurate.

    I have two main questions.

    First, I am unaware of any unfulfilled need or desire in my life that Twitter, as I understand it, would remedy. What is it that Twitter allows me to do that I need to do / will be the better for doing? Why should I invest time in doing it?

    And, related to that time investment,

    , speaking only about David at least ( I can’t speak to the rest of you) — you’re a smart, very busy guy with a lot of interests, working on a lot of things. I never pictured you as having a lot of empty down-time in your day waiting to be filled,or a cognitive surplus you didn’t know what to do with.
    So when you began to use Twitter, what did you stop doing? What did it replace? It seems to me that it must take a non-trivial amount of time, even if you only do it a little, and I can’t imagine how much time if, like karl above, you are picking and choosing from 3500 items a day.

    I just don’t feel like I have any interstitial time, so something would have to go. What was it for you? Are you reading fewer books? Exercising less? Or did you fit it in somehow?


  24. People who don’t believe in Twitter need to understand that for thousands and thousands of people, it is a useful tool. People that do believe in Twitter need to understand that for thousands and thousands of people, it hasn’t proven it’s worth.

    To be fair, it is funny to read entirely serious comments from people who get very angry about Twitter, one way or the other. Yes, I am laughing directly at you.

  25. […] 4.5 things Twitter teaches us ( […]

  26. […] Weinberger addressed this problem recently, in 4.5 points. Here are the first two: 1. Twitter in its native form […]

  27. Do Twitter and Blogs Really Drive Book sales?

  28. After a few days of the comment trickling into my other blog on the post that I talked about recently, I am sure they are all coming from one person. How crazy is that to invent 20 different persons. The thing is, the comment are all the same.

    I also like the at the end, like you have it

  29. […] anno Twitter è cresciuto del 1328% secondo Nielsen. Lo stesso David Weinberger appunta 4, 5 cose che Twitter ci ha insegnato: > Intanto The Register segnala una falla nell’XSS di Twitter mentre escono fuori 25 tra i […]

  30. […] anno Twitter è cresciuto del 1328% secondo Nielsen. Lo stesso David Weinberger appunta 4, 5 cose che Twitter ci ha insegnato: < < And the asymmetry means that some people can have lots of followers but still […]

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