The Twitter Inversion

Perhaps another time I could elaborate further on the profound nature of Twitter’s interaction model. There are flaws, but it’s wired us together in as many ways as there are participants. Today, by way of illustration, here is a screenshot view into a couple of minutes of my Twitter stream:


The stream actually starts on the bottom, so right off the bat if we want to experience time progressing in the familiar direction we are reading from bottom to top, the opposite of what we expect. Thus, leaving Kansas, we hear from some characters. Context is everything.
Daniel Jalkut owns Red Sweater Software, makers of the fine MarsEdit, the weblog editing tool upon which I sculpted the very words you’re reading. We’ve corresponded by email on a couple of topics. Nice guy. Lives about two hours south of here (in Boston) and I’ve always thought I should get myself down to one of the various meetups in that area and say hello sometime. His tweets and posts are each of equal quality.
Next up, Howard Rheingold, an old online friend from The WeLL, who lives in Northern California. When I got fully online in 1988, Howard was there waiting, pointing the way. We met during Internet 1.0 at the offices of Caucus Systems, maker of a well-designed multi-user conferencing system similar in interaction structure to The WeLL. I doubt I’ll ever forget riding the DC metro with Howard in his bright orange silk suit, hand-painted leather shoes, and white derby. You can turn heads dressing like that. It’s unlikely Howard remembers me, but no matter, I love you too buddy.
OM_o is the Open Museum (online), produced by Heritance, where I am a director serving on the board with several others, including friends and founders Maureen and Jeff Doyle. The visual design of is a fork of the xhtml/css codebase I wrote for (nee I usually always check the links posted here because the objects are interesting and the stories are good. And they’re friends and I’m on the board and I usually have thoughts on the interface evolution and I’ll probably see them soon so I want to stay up to date with the project.
And then, look, right there, just above OM_o is Maureen, who lives in Vermont. Always nice to see her. But wait, I don’t like seeing those duplicate Tweets – no no, that suddenly feels like PR. I need to email her a link to this blog post, because I want to encourage people to never do this. Don’t multi-tweet with pasted text. Adopt a specific identity for each posting account, or simply tweet for yourself, as yourself. Using that imperative to make a leap to the broader issues around ‘social media marketing,’ I pretty much agree with everything in this 10-minute video by Perry Belcher. (Some language not safe for work.) He’s coming from the Internet marketer perspective but watch it anyway, he’s right on beat with the social media rap. In another video he claims to have earned in excess of $50 million on the Internet, and also that he has personally paid over $10 million to Google AdWords advertising. If you’re thinking about making money online he’s probably a good guy to listen to. But whatever you think about that he speaks for me on current business best practices using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Above Maureen is my close friend and all-around great person Meg Maker from New Hampshire. You should go and read Maker’s Table, her food and wine blog, right now – this post will still be here when you get back. I’ve known Meg 20 years, we’ve worked together in many different roles and structures, and we see each other socially many times a year.
Above Meg is Dave Winer, a brilliant, visionary, hard-working nerd of the first order, who lives in Berkeley, California. Dave was instrumental in creating among other things, RSS, which is what blogs use for subscriptions; podcasts, which are now ubiquitous; and outlining, which is taken for granted but wasn’t really in use much prior to Dave’s “ThinkTank” and “More” software. Dave also kind of invented the idea of “bullet charts” for presentations, sort of a proto-PowerPoint feature built into More.
Finally at the top, Dan Benjamin, who I’ve never met or corresponded with, but who I came across because in 2007 he wrote the best-ever articles on Ruby/Rails/MySQL/etc Mac OS X installation and configuration. I think he lives near Orlando, Florida. We’ve corresponded a bit via Twitter. He posted something about BBEdit and opening projects, and I @replied (quickly) along the lines of, “X doesn’t just work?” To which he @replied me something snotty, like “@notio, no, obviously, X doesn’t just work.” (I paraphrase.) [See update below.] I felt horrible, like I’d annoyed the Master, and wondered if he’d make it so that my specific computer could never read his website again, but then several other people who I also follow @replied him with the same idea, before they saw his response to me. So then I didn’t feel like quite such a dunderhead. Dan’s a very serious meditator, so I know in my heart that his tone to me was not personal but was just part of his practice.
Now, take another look at that screenshot and tell me: Are these, you know, inane, unnecessary, frivolous, 140-character “messages?” To me, because of the context, not so much – it reads like human conversation. Not transactional messages between humanoids, but conversation between people. If you’ve ever transcribed recorded conversation literally you know it’s really something to read – you can hardly follow it. If I think about conversation as “messages” then most conversations don’t pass for quality of messages. But what’s nice about human conversation is that it has all sorts of structures and processes and norms and degrees of freedom so we can actually get to know each other and find common interests, aside and apart from the transactional and informational quality of messaging.
In that two-minute snapshot of my Twitter stream I am updated on lives and perspectives, and am provided opportunities to further engage with links to several topics. I can reply if I want, or not. Some people I know well, others only through this medium. It’s not email, it’s not threaded, you have to be concise, the company is growing quickly and there are a lot of hiccups.
And yes, there are ways to sort-of spam Twitter and people are discovering ways (cough, TweetBlast, cough) to make sales with viral Twitter schemes, but there’s one big difference.
If you don’t like your Twitter stream content, you can un-follow people, and you’ll never hear from them again.
How different from email lists, where names are shared and sold and the spam never stops. Here attention is earned, not demanded. That inversion makes the whole thing worthwhile, because even if Twitter dies, we’ll have experienced this form of communication.
This new form is such that the listener is in control of the attention paid to talkers, and once you experience this you will never want to go back to letting the broadcast-era talkers attempt to dominate your attention and listening. This interaction model started with RSS subscriptions, and has now hit the mainstream with Twitter.
The future? Let me know when I can watch the most creative advertising whenever I want. That will be fun.
Update: Dan Benjamin commented below, and due to a problem with my TypePad ID I am unable to write a comment response on my own blog. Gotta get off this platform. In any case, I don’t mean to overstate the case – I’m sure whatever Dan said was reasonable, because after reading him for several years I think he’s a reasonable guy – my intent was to convey my internal horror of tossing off a flip comment to an expert. Apology accepted, with my own apology added for good measure!