Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Media: Why I Don't Twitter (Much)

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A friend once told me that he didn't think podcasting was such a big deal, because if you could download the files, then subscribing to a podcast was just a different interface to do something that was already possible. That was largely true for engineers like my friend and me, since we did download MP3's and other sound files of programs before podcasting had been invented. However, my answer to him was that the new interfaces available in iTunes and other programs designed for receiving podcasts were so easy that people who previously didn't know how to download files could have them automatically delivered to their computers. Indeed, podcasting has now allowed millions of people that previously would not have listened to all kinds of programming to listen at their leisure. The phenomenon even prompted me to write on this blog about people effectively becoming their own radio program directors using podcasts.

Twitter is a similar kind of advance. It was already possible to set up a mailing list to reach a group of people via e-mail (in fact, it's been possible almost since the inception of the Internet), and if those recipients had a "smart" phone, they could receive those messages on their mobile device rather than just via e-mail. (Similarly, properly equipped individuals could send to their lists from a mobile device.) Twitter just makes it orders of magnitude easier, especially from a subscriber's point of view. Managing whether one wants to "follow" the "tweets" or messages from a given person is almost trivial using the Twitter interface. The ease of use of the interface is why Twitter has become the hottest thing in technology in 2009, with even National Public Radio's 92-year old Daniel Schorr sending "tweets" (albeit reportedly with help).

Besides the interface, the other distinguishing characteristic of Twitter is that messages are limited to 140 characters. Some people consider it a challenge to write something meaningful in 140 characters, but in general I consider it hopeless. Most of the time, I probably don't provide enough context and explanation for my ideas in this blog--trying to express such ideas in 140 characters is essentially impossible. Markos Moulitsas tried about a week ago, tweeting "Geithner is starting to look like Obama's Rumsfeld." If there was every anything that needed a full essay expanding an idea, it was that one. As talk show host Dave Ross pointed out, his next tweet three hours later was "At park, my 2yo is beating up on 5yos. She doesn't take crap from anyone. My 5yo, on the other hand, gets beat up"--which clearly didn't need more explanation, but nobody outside of his family really needed to hear about.

I see the point of Twitter in following a breaking event--getting the perspective of someone watching a sporting event, for example. Tweeting that you are okay after a major earthquake might be an efficient way to avoid having to call all your friends and relatives. If following a steam train to take pictures of it, following someone tweeting the location of the train would be useful. My life simply doesn't have those kinds of events going on very often, so this blog makes much more sense as a forum to share with the world.

So, technically, I'm on Twitter. But, unless there's some sort of real-time event going on, don't expect me to be sending tweets--or following anyone. And, remember, you can subscribe to this blog using a RSS feed, if you are so inclined--that will provide far more information than following me on Twitter.

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