Twitter, Explained

As only Lileks can:

A local columnist decided to go after Twitter today. (h/t Julio, via Twitter.) Now, we all love Joe around here, and his afternoon talk show is a ratings powerhouse that stands as the last remaining local example of how you create, build, and keep a radio audience without resorting to sports. No small feat, and detractors are advised to try it themselves before pitching rocks.

Now and again, though, even the zestiest observer of the scene can slip into onions-on-the-belt territory. I’ve come to expect two kinds of Twitter stories: one written for a mass audience by someone who gets the medium, like the Strib’s Randy Salas, and one written for people who still think the Morse Telegraph ruined the lovely art of hand-written letters.

You see any sealing-wax salesman downtown lately? ‘Course not. I remember when they’d come by with their cart, and you’d pat old dobbin on the nose while discussing Teapot Dome, and ‘ventually you’d get down to whether you wanted the new-fangled smokeless sealing wax or the old bituminous variety. I didn’t like the smokeless style – time was, a man felt his letter was done when the room was full of choking fumes, and when you wiped down the walls a few times a year with a real sponge, not one of those cellulite monstrosities, you felt like you were gathering up the spirits of all the letters you’d sent. Then Tony – that’s what we called him even though he had some other name – would offer to regrind your seal so you’d get a nice imprint, and he’d do it there on the spot. Kids today with their beep-beep-beep telegrams – what can you say in a medium that’s made up of long and short, and charges by the word? As the man said about the telegraph, “What hath God wrought?” Someone said that about the nuclear bomb, too.

Read the whole thing (because it really does describe Twitter and its utility better than I’ve ever seen it). I love the way he assumes that his readership will get the onion-on-the-belt reference. Not to mention five bees to a quarter.

[Mid-morning update]

I should note that one key point he makes that I hadn’t considered is that Twitter is a digital communications channel that hasn’t (yet) become spammified beyond recognition.

6 thoughts on “Twitter, Explained”

  1. Actually, I didn’t get the onions on the belt thing until you added the five bees to a quarter reference.

    And then I laughed out loud, which was the style at the time.

  2. Twitter is just another form of communication. It has a few unique characteristics which make it exceedingly useful in certain ways, but in the end it’s mostly just people having conversations. When people try to understand twitter they end up doing the equivalent of listening in on conversations. As it turns out, most conversations of any sort are uninteresting to outside observers. Some folks are foolish enough not to realize this, so they write off new forms of media like blogs and twitter as inconsequential.

    As it turns out, conversation is a wide ranging thing. It can be used for everything from the mundane to the extraordinary.

  3. Twitter is 1-line blogging. Twitter is broadcast SMS. But those are completely inadequate descriptions.

    The big thing that surprised me is the potential of butting in on overheard conversations. For example yesterday Aleta was talking with an ex F-4 driver about the drone F-4 conversions being done next door to XCOR. I butted in with the URL of a photo I’d taken of them when I was in the USA in 2004. Everyone seemed happy about this.

    It’s the world’s biggest schmooze fest, finding out who else interesting your friends know BY EXAMPLE of actual conversation they have with them, not just dead “friends” lists.

  4. Yeah, I love Twitter. I am able to tell whoever wants to know about our test flights and engine tests. And I’ve met a bunch of people I’d invite home to tea. Great little service and so far (knock wood) no spam. And I saw some photos Bruce took I didn’t know about! Great fun.

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