How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live
Steven Johnson, Time, June 4, 2009
The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression. You hear about this new service that lets you send 140-character updates to your “followers,” and you think, Why does the world need this, exactly?
Twitter certainly doesn’t make a good first impression. The magic of Twitter happens for people after they jettison the idea that Twitter is primarily about what people are doing. In fact, Twitter is about what people are reading, talking about, thinking about, experiencing and the people to whom they are talking and meeting. It is, in essence, a huge connected conversation.
I have discovered new clubs, friends, blogs, development ideas and business strategies using Twitter. I am drinking the Kool-aid, and it tastes so good.
Skeptics might wonder just how much subversion and wit is conveyable via 140-character updates. But in recent months Twitter users have begun to find a route around that limitation by employing Twitter as a pointing device instead of a communications channel: sharing links to longer articles, discussions, posts, videos — anything that lives behind a URL. Websites that once saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from “passed links” at social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is what the naysayers fail to understand: it’s just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit.
I publicized this blog post using Twitter.
You probably use Google to get information every day. Have you used Twitter to find contemporary information that may not be available on Google? You can (search.twitter.com/advanced).
Twitter is a more efficient supplier of the super-fresh Web than Google. If you’re looking for interesting articles or sites devoted to Kobe Bryant, you search Google. If you’re looking for interesting comments from your extended social network about the three-pointer Kobe just made 30 seconds ago, you go to Twitter.
A local restaurant in my network recently tweeted about a breakfast special they were having for Twitter followers. Kirsten and I acted on the incentive and discovered a wonderful new place to hang out. Twitter provides businesses a new way of marketing directly to the people who may be most interested in their product, while giving consumers unprecedented access to the companies and brands they prefer.
Johnson’s analysis of Twitter end-user innovation is interesting. “The speed”, he writes, “with which users have extended Twitter’s platform points to a larger truth about modern innovation.” I think he is correct. We are ceding patent and Ph.D. market share to foreign competitors at an alarming rate, but we still out-innovate them.
What actually happened to American innovation [since the mid-’80s]? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn’t build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.
In its short life, Twitter has been a hothouse of end-user innovation: the hashtag; searching; its 11,000 third-party applications; all those creative new uses of Twitter — some of them banal, some of them spam and some of them sublime. Think about the community invention of the @ reply. It took a service that was essentially a series of isolated microbroadcasts, each individual tweet an island, and turned Twitter into a truly conversational medium.
I think that’s what people who have yet to “get” Twitter really haven’t understood. Twitter is a conversation. It used to be islands of “What are you doing?” answers, but that is no longer the reality. Twitter provides us a way to share, connect, and converse in a way that is impossible with any other medium.
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