Conversations A-twitter

A web app that comes up often in social media discussions is Twitter. It’s also probably the one service that people have the most trouble understanding the nature of it’s use. It’s often called microblogging, but my original impression, in “Web 1.0” terms, was that Twitter is a cross between a chat room and a web forum. However, after observing the wide range of discourse that happens on Twitter, it’s really much more complex than that.

Seattle’s Lee and Sachi LeFever put out a good, straightforward explanation on the latest installment of the Commoncraft Show, “Twitter in Plain English”.


My favorite line from the video: “real life happens between blog posts and emails.”

Now, it may seem that Twitter is just another medium for people with no attention span to share too much information about their lives. In practice, the use of Twitter tends to deviate from the simple question of “What are you doing?”. Savvy users will treat the question as “What are you doing that’s interesting?”. The question is often ignored altogether, with users sharing links, asking questions, and carrying on conversation. Because Twitter spans so many different mediums (web, SMS, instant messaging), users seem to treat it differently depending on their method of use.

Rick over at Silicon Florist did a recent post making a rough list of Portland’s top tech Twitter-ers (by the measure of followers * updates). By the same metrics, Vancouver’s top twitter users would be, in order, Dave Shea, Tod Maffin, Tim Bray, and Rebecca Bollwitt/Miss604. But nearby in Victoria, Tris Hussey’s numbers beat out anyone I could find in Metro Vancouver.

Various apps have popped up that clone and expand on the Twitter model. Jaiku (bought by Google), has developed a small but active user base in Vancouver. It adds a number of features such as message threading and integration of RSS feeds- your flickr photos and blog posts can be automatically pulled into your “presence stream”. Streem a project of Imran Zaidi of Kingston, Ontario with a well designed interface, and can also pull content from other services.

I think the term “microblogging” may fade away, as I don’t think it’s particularly descriptive of how people are actually using these apps. Twitter and similar services are a new medium of communication, bridging many platforms. Users are still trying to understand the best ways to use them. Arguably, they fulfill the long standing dream of being about to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time. While I lament the addition of yet another distraction to my digital devices, the conversation is happening, and I don’t want to miss it. The trick is to not forget that everyone is listening, and there are public permalinks.