Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on Twitter (so far)

I just started using Twitter this week and have been wondering whether it would be of any use in the long run. It seems to leverage our instinct for gossip, effectively a giant ongoing chat room. But that doesn’t mean it can’t become a powerful tool.

First, so far, I think it's pretty clear that it is not the right medium for intelligent discussion and encourages a soundbite mentality that is already too common and too tempting. We can’t structure a thoughtful argument and provide context for an original thought in 140 chars, unless we have been involved in a dialog for a while or have common source of context, neither of which is encouraged by the Twitter format. It is possible but extremely inconvenient for that purpose. You can only give clues to your thinking, or give the impression of saying something useful, which hopefully will trigger thinking in other people.

However, that said, it also seems to me that Twitter seems particularly powerful when used as a source of quick pointers to potentially interesting things … a spur to creativity or looking in new directions. The more people think of it as a way to trigger ideas in others, the more selective they will be about giving ideas rather than statuses, and the more feeds we can read that trigger useful ideas. So long as the mundane “I am going out to the store for some bread and milk now” stuff doesn’t overwhelm the channel.

I think that (as with non-virtual relations), it works best if you surround yourself with people that have good ideas and diverse thoughts about similar interests to yours (and maybe a couple of offbeat friends). I can't see how people following 5,000 Twitter contacts can use it for anything more than random inspiration?

(This is an edit of a comment to Cameron Reilly's blog post about how he uses Twitter).

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