Monday, March 17, 2008

You don't understand Twitter!

That's OK. It's kind of weird and hard to get your head round. And if you aren't using Twitter, absolutely there is no way you're going to understand it. It looks ridiculous; the most pointless thing ever,

But the hype is justified. Twitter is unlike anything else out there. A kind of Flow Internet version of The most successful example of Zby's "social routing" I've seen. The nearest thing to plugging yourself live into massively parallel hive-mind.

Update : Big Scribe post on Twitter today.


Scribe said...

This week I am mostly interested in the idea that parallel communications and flow are not necessarily what most people want. Just what geeks want :)

To come back to information overload, maybe we have a "connectivity overload". And maybe there are those people who are happy enough, or in the right position, or techie enough, to be able to pull out what they want and what they're interested in. They're not necessarily mainstream. Niche progress is interesting, and it spreads quickly through FlowNets.

On the other hand, "mainstream" implies something different - an attachment to economies of scale, to popularism, and to the top 10. 15 minutes of fame is more important than 15 people. Knowing what everyone else is into - keeping up with the major body of crowd - is the motivating factor.

Picking and choosing your own view of the world is different to being handed a view of the world that lets you "fit in". And I think a lot of people *like* these views that are handed to them on a plate, that they buy as a mental zeitgeist subscription. The hierarchy is a filter. The PR spin is a lens.

This is not the challenge that Twitter faces, it's the challenge that the promise of the entire Internet faces. We were promised anarchy, networked liberalism, but maybe the world isn't as easy to break up as we think. In fact, maybe it's getting harder.

phil jones said...


My guess is that we're seeing a number of factors :

1) sure, a lot of people look to the mainstream. Because that's all they know. And because it's easier than thinking for yourself.

2) Smaller scale, but nevertheless gigantic, hubs are emerging within the network. For example a lot of people on Twitter will follow Scoble or GapingVoid, because, once again, it's what you know and doesn't take too much energy to make the decision.

3) So you'll see still hugely unequal distributions of attention (maybe power-law or something else) but some "new" hubs (ie. ones which are not created by or sanctioned by existing mainstream media institutions)

In fact, this is "long tail" thinking. The net is free of certain real-world constraints like the government mandated radio frequency monopolies or the real economies of scale in newspaper print and distribution. So we'd expect to find not just a few super-hubs and a lot of empty space, but some kind of distribution of super, giant, big, medium, smallish, and tiny hubs.

4) Even black-holes evaporate over time. Slowly (but much more slowly than the rise of Twitter etc. the gigantic hubs will start to evaporate. Mainstream newspapers are losing readers year after year. Mainstream television is losing viewers year after year. This years "number one" in the charts sells far fewer copies than the equivalent 20 years ago. People will get bored with Scoble. Because information is *difference* ... the more valuable information becomes, the less valuable it is to think and know what everyone else already knows.

5) "Mainstream" / "Sheeple" vs. "Handpicked" / "Think for yourself" / "Niche" will become a matter of degree rather than binary distinction. (Because of all the intermediate sized hubs)

6) "Mainstream" / "Sheeple" vs. "Handpicked" / "Think for yourself" / "Niche" will become multi-dimensional. Geeks fine-tune their software environment but eat junk food. Others will spend a lot of time and attention eating well but use junk-software. No-one can be elite in everything. (And money will be less and less useful to help you pretend to be)

7) Interesting you thought (in your blog post) that IM was in decline. Don't see that here. The younger generation here are all about a) Orkut, b) MSN (with Skype just for work, and I think a lot of them wouldn't know an email if it bit them)

8) We aren't going to get "networked liberalism" whatever that is. Nor will the world resist breaking up. What we're going to get is "netocracy" whether we like it or not.

Of course netocracy implies an elite of connection manipulators and imploitors and a disempowered consumtariat. But that doesn't mean that the consumtariat don't try to play the netocracy game; just as the world is full of small investors and people who have bank accounts and pension funds and mortgages : playing the capitalism game through certain controlled institutions.

At the worst, the consumtariat will be encouraged to sign up to bogus connection manipulation institutions (perhaps Facebook is becoming one) which are more ways of scamming value from your social network than actually helping you imploit it.