The appeal of Twitter — part XVII

Twitter seems to be one of those things that people write about almost as much as they actually use (which isn’t hard, considering the average Twitter post is less than 140 characters). I’ve written my share of blog posts about Twitter, including here and here, and now we have a longish post from Howard “Smart Mobs” Rheingold about why he has started using the app, along with some follow-ups from my friend Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests and from Nick Bradbury of FeedDemon.

Howard puts his finger on some important things about Twitter that he says makes it interesting as an example of a “smart mob,” including:

  • Openness
  • Immediacy
  • Variety
  • Asymmetry

And I would agree with all of those. But one of the most important factors, I think — and the one from which many of the others flow — is the first one: openness. If I send an @ message to just about anyone (unless they have blocked me), I know that they will likely see my post. I can’t think of any other app that allows that, except perhaps the ability to comment on someone’s blog. In some cases, I direct message people (d username) on Twitter because I can’t remember their email address, or don’t know which one of the many they have I should be using.

Facebook allows this kind of thing too, but to a much more limited extent. And messaging people through Facebook — which is another way a lot of people reach me — is much less immediate, since you have to click the link in the email to go to the Facebook message page, and whoever gets your response has to jump through the same kind of hoops. Twitter is always on, and is much faster, provided the person you need to reach is paying attention (my Twitter info is in the right-hand sidebar).

I think Tony puts it well when he says that Twitter is like a big group chat with a wide and varied group of people. I would definitely agree. And like many groups events — parties, etc. — not everyone is listening to everyone else, and there are side conversations going on that you may only hear one side of. But if you want to approach someone, they are as close as an @ message. And sometimes it’s just fun to listen in.

Update:

Jeff Jarvis has a column up at the Guardian about Twitter.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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