Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twitter: A Bridge, Not A Destination

ReadWriteWeb had a little blip on the state of Twitter on their website this morning that’s leaving me scratching my head. They seem pretty excited that Twitter, according to PainContent and Quantcast, saw more unique visitors than the websites of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The piece starts off with this question: Where do you get your news from? The implication, of course, is that people, or at least more people, are getting their news from Twitter, not from the NYT or WSJ.

My response: Huh?

Maybe I misunderstood the intention. But this post seems more like a continuation of the “Oprah, Ashton, CNN lovefest for Twitter,” as the author puts it, than telling me what people are using Twitter for.

What does the author use Twitter for?

Twitter is “useful, fun and captivating.” It’s a “place to learn about what’s going on in your world.” It’s a “different animal. It’s more interesting” than Facebook or Myspace.

But the writer does get past empty banalities to say why Twitter is all these things: “We found the PaidContent post via NY Times designer Jeremy Zilar (on Twitter) who was passing it along from the Twitter account of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. The Lab posted a video tour of the New York Times R&D lab this morning, where the very forward-looking newspaper giant is exploring ways to deliver its content to new devices, to satisfy advertisers in a changed media world, and to aim (presumably) not to lose to Twitter as the news outlet of the future.”

So they got it from a guy who heard it from someone else who posted a video on their site about a forward-looking newspaper giant exploring ways to deliver its content to new devices (while at the same time threatening to shutter the Boston Globe, which is, of course, an old device). Couldn’t they have accomplished the same thing listening to a man in the corner of a pub?

Oh, I know. I get Twitter. It’s connecting people separated by distance and interests and education and reach and putting the paradigm-shifting powers of the printing press into one of the stars from “That ‘70s Show.” Much like the connections between neurons in the brain of an individual who likes to brag about his new MacBook Pro, yammer about cribbage or pocket-handkerchiefs, the new Star Trek movie and create unlikely titles for James Bond movies.

I will disclose I have seen some benefit from Twitter. Just this week I got the Idaho Travel Council and visitidaho.org to visit the Uncharted website, tempting them with a link to a story and photos we just posted on Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Twitter is helping us network our site, and, hopefully, drive traffic to it. But I fail to see how RedWriteWeb can justify it’s claims that a flow of bite-sized yippety-yap, to steal a line from “Twouble with Twitter,” a rather amusing animation belittling the paradigm-shifting power of the site, is going to drive the future of news. Unless, of course, they envision news being delivered in 140 characters or less.

Other than that, I find Twitter to be an excellent place to shout into the darkness, even if I do get an occasional shout back, wondering why my shouts are so nonsensical.

The author of this piece also throws in the juicy rhetorical question: “Of course Twitter doesn’t create original content. Does it?”

The question is left unanswered, because the answer is no. Well, I suppose it is content if you don’t mind being limited to 140 characters. Not that great things haven't been said in less than 140 characters, but as far as news goes, it would be difficult for even USA Today or Reader's Digest to condense so much. As Twitter is being used now, it’s a fine networking tool and, at least in the way I use it, is a fine news aggregator focusing on my special interests. But I’m always leaving Twitter as soon as I find something interesting to read. Twitter is a bridge, but hardly a news destination.

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