February 15, 2008

Six blind men and the Twitter elephant

I got a long email today from a Very Smart Person who asked, in effect “What is Twitter for? I don’t get it.” Coincidentally, Rex Hammock posted a good answer yesterday, albeit with a bad title that I won’t repeat. The essence was:

… the most amazing thing about Twitter is this: everyone uses it differently.

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. “Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.” “Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.” “Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.”

Like the Internet itself, Twitter is hard to explain because it doesn’t really have a point. And it has too many points. Here’s what I mean: All it does is provide a common-place to relay short messages to a group of people who agree to receive your messages. Here’s the second part of what i mean: When you stop thinking those short messages aren’t limited to “I’m about to get on the elevator” but can be eye-witness accounts of breaking news stories or bursts of business-critical intelligence, or warnings that a gun-man is loose on campus, or shared conversations about political debates you and your friends are watching on TV, the possibilities of what can be done using Twitter becomes amazingly confusing — I think in a good way.

I’ve recently put up two posts on Twitter use cases. For yet another — well, as Shakespeare didn’t quite say, a 140 character limit is the soul of wit. Here’s my (ever-changing) list of Twitter “favorites”. The humor ranges from the sophomoric to the erudite; there are some serious aphorisms as well.


4 Responses to “Six blind men and the Twitter elephant”

  1. Rex Hammock on February 15th, 2008 3:39 pm

    Thanks for the kind words. About the title: You’re right. It’s bad. I was thinking about my two kids when I wrote it. The older one would say to the younger one, “You can’t do this — you’re too little.” That would make the younger one do everything possible to prove the older one wrong. I’ve discovered that “understanding” something comes rarely, if ever, from hearing about it or reading about it. Understanding comes only from diving into the deep end of the pool.

  2. links for 2008-06-14 « Home is Where You Hang Your @ on June 14th, 2008 5:31 am

    […] Six blind men and the Twitter elephant | Text Technologies Trying to describe what Twitter is good for is like explaining a phone in terms of what people talk about: “it’s a tool for teenagers to share gossip”, “it’s a tool for calling the police in an emergency.” (tags: community twitter web2.0 trends SocialSoftware socialnetworks socialnetwork social sharing internet future conversations content blogs blogging) […]

  3. Micro- and full-length-blogging use cases overlap greatly | Text Technologies on July 20th, 2008 1:02 pm

    […] comparable.”  I disagree.  Hodson was over-glorifying blogging, while trivializing the broad variety of Twitter use cases.*  Consider, if you please, the following list of use cases that are met both by Twitter and by […]

  4. Daniel Tunkelang idealizes Twitter | Text Technologies on January 2nd, 2009 11:34 pm

    […] But I’d disagree that there’s a bright line separating the two.  In particular, I think most business blogs serve or should serve as both, in no small part because the areas of marketing and communication overlap heavily. And in my opinion Twitter (microblogging) and ordinary blogging aren’t that far apart. […]

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