August 24, 2009
The Twitter Valve
Henry Jenkins has a solid post on the value and limitations of Twitter. It has two parts, descriptive and normative. Here’s the descriptive part:
Someone recently asked me, “If McCluhan is right and the medium is the message, what is the message of Twitter?” My response: “Here It Is and Here I Am.”
And the normative:
My first impressions were correct that Twitter is no substitute for Blogs or Live Journal. And in so far as people are using it to take on functions once played on blogs, there is a serious loss to digital culture.
I think you can find a lot to talk about in the descriptive part of Jenkins’s account even if you quibble with the normative part. But there are also descriptive claims contained in the normative account. I want to look at just one slice of this:
Three years ago, when I started this blog, if people wanted to direct attention to one of my blog posts, they would write about it in their blog and often feel compelled to spell out more fully why they found it a valuable resource. I got a deeper insight into their thinking and often the posts would spark larger debate. As the function of link sharing has moved into Twitter, much of this additional commentary has dropped off. Most often, the retweets simply condense and pass along my original Tweet. At best, I get a few additional words on the level of “Awesome” or “Inspiring” or “Interesting.” So, in so far as Twitter replaces blogs, we are impoverishing the discourse which occurs on line.
In other words, Twitter acts as a kind of valve, where the energy that would go into 1) writing extended comments and 2) signing a blog of your own gets siphoned off into minimalist links.
I’ll hold off on explaining what I think about this — I’m still formulating it — but I want to note that you could apply this logic to a lot of other kinds of contemporary web discourse, from Facebook “Likes” to Diggs — maybe even things like Instapaper.
There is clearly demand for a minimalist approach to reading and commenting. We like the option of doing “less” and doing it later. Why is this? And what does it change about the way we communicate ideas online?