The value of Twitter

What is the value of a telephone? If you were to listen to a random set of phone calls over a day, what would you hear? You’d hear a lot of “Hey”, “Hi”, “How’s it going?”, “What’s up?”, “Not much”, “um”, “yeah”, “no”, “I dunno”, “ok”, “bye” “see ya”. Clearly not much value there.

Worse, not only is the content poor, but, but the interface is useless. You can’t see the person you are talking to, which as we all know is a terrible limitation. To contact them you have to remember this 10 digit number. And you have to pay a fee to have the conversation. Truly awful.

Of course this is absurd. Telephones are essential. We have more and more of them in our lives. And not just for simple exchanges. How many of us have waited by the phone in the hope – or dread – of receiving an important call? And having received it, how many of us have cried or laughed or slumped in relief or yelped for joy? I can remember many such calls. I am sure you can too.

This brings me to Twitter (and for that matter, SMS). So much of it may seem trivial or pointless at times. But I have heard the relief in someone commenting on the revived health of their parents or the joy of a loved one returning or the sadness of a relative dying. I have seen beautiful photos of places and people via Twitpics. I have heard the songs that make people dance and sing and lament via blip.fm. As time passes, I expect to see more ways that these short bursts of text allow me to communicate with others.

So when people write and complain about this or that regarding Twitter I wonder what they are thinking. What I am thinking is that it is a reflection of people and the human condition through this particular medium, just like the telephone or the letter or any other media we use. Sure, it can be mundane. And the tool itself is limited. But what is expressed is often as rich as anything that we can express as individuals. People who miss out on that are missing out on a lot.

I thought of this after reading a number of critical articles at the NYTimes.com web site recently. There’s this one (Let them eat tweets), this one (What annoys me about twitter), and this one (To tweet or not to tweet). After I read them, I wrote the above. Clearly they struck a nerve, for some other people wrote some critiques of them at the same time as I did, including this one here (In defense of twitter) and here (Maureen Dowd interviews telephone inventor).

One response to “The value of Twitter

  1. Interesting post Bernie – especially how you compared the telephone with Twitter. Also, it looks like you have linked Twitter with SMS (which is big here in Japan and the rest of Asia).

    I haven’t read all the links in your post yet, but my first thought it that Twitter is many-to-many or mass communication (yes, I know you can make your Tweets private as I have) while the telephone (unless you have a party line) and SMS is typically 1-1 or private communication.

    This may prove to be an important difference, no? Comments?

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