It took me a while to understand Twitter, as documented in my last post. I'm certainly not the most prolific or most informed user, but I've come to gain some insights about Twitter that I haven't seen a lot of other commentators pick up on. These are by no means exclusive to Twitter, but I think it is the platform which most embodies these characteristics today:
- New kinds of connection. More than any other medium I've come across, Twitter enables new kinds of social interactions. Conversations become multilateral public events, instead of one-way or two-way forms of communication. And those conversations can coalesce around personal, local, or topical interests. I can dip in and out of many different conversations happening simultaneously. If I have nothing interesting to say about an interesting topic, I can just observe while others contribute.
- The new news. As a news junkie, I used to troll blogs and websites for the latest information on what was happening in business, in technology, in Lexington, and in the world-at-large. Now, Twitter serves as my news station. I can easily ignore tweets which I don't find interesting, but follow links which are of interest. What is best is that this news is already vetted by folks I respect and trust.
Further, Twitter's hashtag convention allows me to follow what topics are 'hot' through tools like TwitScoop, which is enabled by default in TweetDeck (see my last post if this last passage looks like Greek to you). The news on Twitter often unfolds long before mainstream media picks it up. In Ace Weekly (@AceWeekly), Kakie Urch (@ProfKakie) put together an excellent analysis of how Twitter acted as the new news in the #amazonfail case, including how long it took traditional media to even notice, while the twitterverse was exploding in outrage. (As I write this, a friend of mine, @JasonOney, is mounting a campaign to save the NBC series Chuck, using the #savechuck tag. And he's got friends marching with him. Look out NBC.)
- Twitizenship. What the #amazonfail and #savechuck cases (among many thousands more) demonstrate is a new form of online citizenship, characterized by immediacy, openness, and cause-centered organization. This 'twitizenship' can create what some call 'flash mobs': groups which form nearly instantly in either the virtual or physical worlds. Twitizens expect speed, transparency, and action from both businesses and civic leaders.
My favorite recent example: Kickeball at CentrePointe Parque. Where? Let me explain. Using Twitter and Facebook, a flash mob formed around the idea of playing a kickball game on the pit of rubble in Lexington where CentrePointe is not being built. So, last Friday at 5:30 PM, they had a game – and a wonderful bit of public theater and civil disobedience. It was quick. And you can read the best account here (Thanks, @KeeganFrank) and see the best video here (Thanks, Mick Jeffries). You should check out these accounts, because the local media completely whiffed on coverage over the ensuing 24 hours. I left work to go to the pit and witness the game (but not to participate – I was chicken, and I didn't want to get arrested).
This is a fun example, but I hope my main point shines through: Twitter allows citizens to form into and disband from interest groups at lightning speed. These groups have higher expectations of their leaders and of businesses, who must respond with greater speed and openness. Those who fail to respond will surely #fail.
Twitter's platform allows for new social formations which are important, and will be changing the way we interact, the way we get our news, and the way we create a better city, state, nation, and planet. Governments, businesses, and citizens must adapt to this changed world, or they will be left behind.
Those are my thoughts on why Twitter matters. What are yours?