Friday, June 27, 2008

Twitty Comeback

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm no fan of Twitter, the manic microblogging application that has become popular among the digerati, which I think ranks up there with live blogging as a rhetorically bad cyber-habit that is symptomatic of what Ian Bogost has called "the membership economy." I'll admit to being a pretty regular updater of my Facebook status and have even used my cell phone in the line for the ladies room for that purpose. (One of my favorite status lines was "Elizabeth would rather read newspapers and feel bad about the world than read magazines and feel bad about herself.") But the whole Twitter thing about following and being followed I just don't get.

However, that doesn't mean that I'm immune to the idiocy in the stream of mainstream media clich├ęs in a recent article about Twitter in the San Jose Mercury News, "We're connecting -- and wasting time -- on Twitter." It's remarkable to see so many Web 2.0 stereotypes trotted out in such a formulaic fashion. So, in response, I've created the following Madlib-style template to help other reporters generate stories. Excerpts from the article are below, so that prospective technology writers can see a model of how to apply the boilerplate.

[Anything but the first-person or third person singular] are crazy about [technology x]

In recent years, there has been a lot of "you" and "we" and "us" on magazine covers about Web 2.0. The reporter's "we" title makes us feel like we're all in the know.

[Technology x] is [word meaning "banal"].

Some have called Twitter "the 'Seinfeld' of the Internet - a Web site about nothing." And at first glance, this micro-blogging tool that connects users around the world through short bursts of real-time text messages can seem mindlessly superficial.

"just ate a great burrito," types one Twitterer.

"time for a nap," says another.

[Technology x] is [word meaning "addictive"]

Critics say Twitter, which can be accessed by computer, instant messaging, PDAs and cell phones, is prone to system crashes, has yet to show how it will turn a profit, and seduces its addicted users into unproductive dead zones - "a time-suck" says one critic, "for those not able to stay away."

But don't tell that to the users - 1.2 million unique visitors in May, by one account - who have embraced the 2-year-old tool and use it to trade sports scores, organize protests and even hire new employees. Many who try Twitter are smitten.

'I was hooked'

"Once I figured out how to filter through all the content, I was hooked," said Christine Perkett, a mother of two using Twitter to trade parenting tips on everything from Montessori schools to the most absorbent diapers. "As your Twitter network expands, you really start to learn from these other parents."

[Technogy x] is transforming the way we communicate

"It's nowhere near mainstream," says Rodney Rumford, whose "Definitive Guide to Twitter" is about to be published. "But it represents a fundamental shift in the way people communicate. Just like blogging changed the way people share information, Twitter does that, too."

[Technogy x] is [words to express in the vaguest possible terms that something is potentially economically promising]

Founder Dorsey won't say how many users Twitter has or how it plans to make money. Revenue could come from ads, which Twitter is now testing on its popular Japanese site. While assessments differ widely, Nielsen/NetRatings estimated there were more than a million unique visitors to in May. And while that's a drop in the bucket compared with the 26 million visitors to Facebook in the same month, Twitter's traffic has more than doubled since March.

[and yet capable of destroying the social fabric with narcissism]

Yet the same qualities that draw some people to become obsessive Twitterers can drive others crazy. Scott Karp, a well-known media-tech blogger, describes Twitter as a "massive waste of time" and "the temptation to Tweet for the sake of Tweeting is way too high."

Others point out that the tool, along with lesser-known competitors like Pownce and Jaiku, can be easily abused by self-promoters, aggressive marketers and online ego-trippers trying to build a bigger network than the next guy.

"Some users are actually competing for followers," says Rod Bauer, 53, a marketing consultant who works out of his sailboat in Sausalito. "They're either celebrities or they're promoting their own businesses. It can get a bit tiresome, but it's part of the culture.

[Technogy x] was started by two (or three) young guys in their garage

That culture was born in early 2006 at podcasting service Odeo, where Dorsey worked with blogging pioneer Biz Stone, now 34 and Twitter's co-founder and creative director. Brainstorming new ideas, Stone said he and Dorsey, "let our minds drift a bit. What if we could reduce some of the functions of the social-network sites, like journaling, but make it less verbose and more lightweight?"

Simplify, they thought. Write code that would allow users to post "status messages" online or with their phones "and you could access them anytime and anywhere and find out what your friends were up to," Stone says. They ran the idea by Nebraska native Evan Williams, now Twitter's chief product officer, who had worked with Stone at Google before starting up Odeo. Williams gave the green light, says Stone, so "we built a prototype in two weeks and let our friends try it. Everyone liked it. The immediacy of it really clicked with people."

In early 2007, they formed Twitter with the help of venture-capital and other investors.

(Thanks to Jenny Cool for the link and the observation about its by-the-numbers composition.)

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Anonymous Alice Robison said...

Heh. Cute. Question: is your distaste for Twitter a conceptual one? I just hadn't seen you on there and was wondering if you had used it and then decided you didn't like it? Or is it just the idea of it you don't like? I'm always curious about why people do and don't like social software tools like these.

1:46 PM  

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