I guess for anyone that truly knows me, I am a Twitter junkie. Not just an addict; not that clean with my usage. Not just a user; I do not attend the meetings. But I am a bona fide junkie: I am messy, I share timelines with others, and I often identify my Self as a Twitter super user.
Beyond one even knowing how many updates I have(446,901 at the time of this writing) or how many followers(20, 314 at the time of this writing), this is apparently obvious. Given the San Francisco headquartered company’s prominence despite a failing strategy for new users, I recognize its reach. One major factor composing its reach that may also factor in its failure to breach a wider market is the misunderstanding of what Twitter actually is. Ultimately, there really was never a full tag line laden marketing campaign explaining what the company famous for its 140 character limit updates was. Terms like “social media” and the like have grown to be amorphous and cliche. Furthermore, the interweb always had “social media”, even before it had the label.
In an effort to make using Twitter as a means to effect an end, I offer this bit of definition. First of all, Twitter has to be framed as a broadcast medium. The initial design for Twitter that causes the constraint that is the 140 character limit is based on SMS(think texting) technology. That very design creates a very dynamic experience that has grown to define “real time” for the web, in this era. As an application that creates user experiences that feel like a broadcast, it’s greatest use is as entertainment. Not just any form of entertainment, either, but stadium like entertainment.
I once quipped that Twitter provides you with a microphone and a stage, but you have to work to build your audience. I would amend that to state, Twitter provides you access to an arena, winning the fans over to your side is your task. However, until you win them over, you are either invisible or infamous. Being invisible to a live stadium audience type group coupled with the belief of security behind distance and screen can be a powerful thing. Powerful there should be slightly ironic, and more akin to “safe” than “controlling”. However, it should still retain a bit of the “able to do” denotation. More on that in another OWL’s Asylum writing.
There is another aspect to Twitter’s design that influences the culture that should also be considered here.
On September 28, 2015, the findings of a study of Twitter, well, Twitter users, from The University of Pennsylvania were announced on their site. The study suggests that there are patterns of behavior, styles, that can denote a user’s economic class. While I totally think the report should be spray painted with qualifiers such as,”Not All Cases”, “Some of the time, not all”, and “Needs More Research”, there is a useful articulation. The study separates the styles into two categories.
The first category, allegedly reflecting the styles of the upper class, is more like a broadcast. It is updating links and articles while rarely interacting with others in a one-on-one fashion. The second style is different. It is where the user employs Twitter much like a highly decorated SMS or texting application. This for me shows less about class(trust me, the affluent “text” one another on the main timeline just as much as the “poor” simply drop links or discuss topic abstractly in theirs), as much as the versatility and utility of Twitter.
One of the researchers stated, thusly:
“Lower-income users or those of a lower socioeconomic status use Twitter more as a communication means among themselves,” he said. “High-income people use it more to disseminate news, and they use it more professionally than personally.”Nikolaos Aletras of University College London, Twitter Behavior Can Predict Users’ Income Level, New Penn Research Shows
I personally believe that Twitter is a superior networking application. The design allows for broadcast style information dissemination. The design also allows for the growth of one-to-one communications that help nurture personal relationships. The strength of these types of interactions are exponentially given value once parties meet and interact off of Twitter.
The most salient factor of the internet is the second root of that portmanteu, namely, “net”. In a more conspiracy thinker’s thinking, “net” means, well, “a net”. And in some instances, it is necessary to weigh that framing. Here, I wish to frame it more towards “network” or “networked”. We have extremely connected machines, and Twitter has been a terrific interface for me to navigate those connections. But, it is just an interface. The gains and the values do not truly begin to move from small digital increments to major tangibles until an off Twitter connection is made.
Notice that I typed, “OFF TWITTER”. Now, I have made the major life altering motions by being totally offline. However, simply engaging your network through another channel increases value. Go try it.
No, seriously. Go try it now.