The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

What (Some) People Like On Twitter

The other day on Twitter, I had a particularly silly/dorky Steve Jobs tweet become crazy popular, like a thousand retweets popular. So — being again, particularly silly and dorky myself — decided to pull some of my most popular tweets into a Storify to try to discern a pattern (if any).

BIG PATTERN: People love pop culture references. But my Twitter feed (and probably yours) regularly ABOUNDS in pop culture references. So that actually turns out not to have a ton of explanatory value on its own.

SMART PATTERN: What people really seem to love are oblique, unexpected pop culture references that hit a particular niche. They’re tweets that say: “this message was only for you; now share it with everyone you know.”

BIG PATTERN #2: People definitely respond in a big way to big news events. If something is going on that’s happening in real-time, the retweet button gets a workout.

SMART PATTERN #2: The problem with big events is that everybody’s tweeting and retweeting everything. Which is fine! It’s good! But at the same time, some sort of conceptual scoop that shines a light on something different about what’s happening adds more value.

BIG PATTERN #3: People love anything that reminds them of their childhood.
SMART PATTERN #3: I love anything that reminds me of my childhood. And that Proustian love is a propulsive force that drives me to write better sentences.


“And that Proustian love is a propulsive force that drives me to write better sentences.” What a great line, & a great observation!

I think it’s slightly noteworthy that your Steven-the-White tweet doesn’t actually end w/ a question mark. You could have done it—it’s 139 characters—but w/ a question mark it becomes, you know, a question. Without one, it’s not actually; it’s something different, a directive, I don’t know. The point is, in terms of style it’s just perfect. Even the ampersands all feel exactly right. God I love a great tweet.

Sharat Buddhavarapu says…

I really agree with smart pattern #2. In fact I am thinking that just like you mastered the art of the great tweet, somebody will come along and master the 20-character retweet commentary.

Also, Steve needs to go to Ian McKellen, and train to get his Gandalf accent on.

Tim says…

That’s one of the things I love about the BadBanana Joke about Dracula — really, the Jobs-as-Gandalf tweet is just a version of that Dracula joke.

On the one hand, it’s the timing: in a very short space you go from something mundane and expected to something that’s familiar in itself but surprising in context. This is classic stand-up punchline stuff, though.

The thing that you get from Twitter, because it’s written, is the full range of orthographic and syntactic complexity. This lets you do pastiche — the Death Star tweet works, I think, because it blends Star Wars references with language & style that really could appear in a government report — it lets you pile up details (like Jobs’s New Balances, I had to stick those in there), and it gives you a density of language that doesn’t go away.

Think about it: Not just “Dracula!” but “for a variety of reasons, probably Dracula.” It doesn’t just build tension or make the tweet sound conversational; it actually makes you think about what those reasons are.

1) Dracula exists. Huh.
2) Wait, why is Dracula in heaven? He can die? Did God change the rules about who gets in here?
3) Oh shit! Get the fuck out of here, that’s Dracula!
4) Wait; who’d surprise you MORE than Dracula?

And so on.

Punctuation, too, plays a role. I’ve talked with Robin about how lack of end-punctuation becomes, on Twitter, a way to signal “I’m kidding,” or at least, “this is off the cuff.” But you can also dress it up with commas or ampersands (or spelled-out “and”s), you can use misspelling or all-caps; each of them give you a different effect.

I’d say “I think about this too much,” but again, I think about EVERYTHING too much.

Mcur says…

Smart Pattern #1 reminds me of that weird little observation that I learned from who-knows-where that people always laugh harder at a joke that fewer people understand. It’s like spicy food–you want it as hot as possible before you can’t take it; you want it as obscure as possible before you can’t understand it. Also probably the reason I’m always so much easier on comedy in a foreign language I’m learning: half of it is the fun of the joke, the other half is the fun of getting it.

But you can also dress it up with commas or ampersands (or spelled-out “and“s), you can use misspelling or all-caps; each of them give you a different effect.

This is seriously my favourite thing about the internet. The number of times I’ve been writing a formal essay and thought ‘you know this would be so much better if I could leave out the punctuation right here & just let this sentence flow on & on into a perfect little stream of consciousness capsless piece of thought because lets be honest who really thinks with capital letters anyway’ is… okay, probably not that large if we’re talking about that specific thought, but you get the idea.

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