by Brian on October 17, 2008

in In the News,Just For Fun

I’ll admit that when I first heard about Twitter, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing in the world. As a journalist and a long time blogger, I take pride in crafting a well thought out story, with a beginning, middle and end, and a common theme running throughout.

So the idea of “micro-blogging” in bursts of no more than 140 characters at a time, as you do on Twitter, seemed to me to be entirely untenable. How could a serious writer work under such artificially composed constraints? Who would read such hastily shot off drivel?

Well, apparently a lot of people. Including me now.

Against all my better instincts, I’ve become a Twitter addict. In the age of Web 2.0, the new definition of addiction has become “someone who presses the refresh button on his or her browser more than 20 times an hour.” Guilty as charged. Twitter now has 2 million users. That’s an audience that online media properties of all types need to take note of – and get twittering themselves.

Twitter is part of an overall trend towards providing web users with a constant stream of updated information. A blog – the rage of the last 5 years – seems positively passé today. When you post a “tweet,” as they’re called, you’re likely to receive a comment in return not in hours (as on an “old fashioned” website or email list) but in minutes, sometimes even seconds.

In the U.S., you can set Twitter to send a whole stream of discussion to your cell phone as SMS messages. I tried that for a while; the service is free. At first, the tens of messages I received a day made me feel important. “Look how many SMS’s I’m getting. I must be popular!” Eventually all the checking, reading and deleting got to be too much and I shut if off.

Whether via SMS or on the web, this instant gratification is like a drug. You want more so you post more. There are Twitterphiles who update their status every hour…or less. One person I follow got stuck in the airport while returning home; he tweeted his status in real time. “Plane delayed 30 minutes.” “Visiting the bookstore now.” “Finally pre-boarding business class.”

There’s even a category called the “Twitter novel” where a few new media pioneers are writing a book in real time, posting in 140 character snippets and receiving fast feedback.

Twitter seems to be divided into two classes. Users who post every little detail about their lives (“3:00 AM, finally going to sleep,” “Which flavor of ice cream should I buy?”), and serious users who upload valuable insights and links to web pages of serious interest (TechCrunch, GigaOm).

My Twitter posts have included both. I have asked questions and received feedback that have helped me position my new startup. I learned about web applications provider Zoho though a post from one Twitter member I “follow” sent to another (I wasn’t even in the conversation). On the other hand, I have also tweeted about my enthusiasm for the new season of Heroes (the latter resulted in a flame by a disappointed fan) and who has the best ice coffee (hint: it’s not Starbucks).

It’s not just Twitter, of course, that’s changing the face of web interaction. Social networking services of all kinds allow you to update your status and broadcast it to your friends. I can track my daughter’s moods from what she posts on Facebook. One time she wrote “I hate her!” I instant messaged her. “Who do you hate?” “Don’t ask me,” she quickly replied, “or I’ll ‘de-friend’ you.”

Facebook, in particular, is also a godsend for finding old friends. I have re-connected with people I knew from high school, college and various projects I’ve been involved with over the years. LinkedIn, a business-focused social network, is even better for finding out what old colleagues are now up to. Other services include Dopplr (for reporting where you’re traveling) and Tumblr (for quickly tossing online a stream of the pictures, videos or websites you’re looking at).

On both Facebook and LinkedIn, there are “groups” that allow you to mass message other participants – I’m a member of “Jerusalem Web Professionals,” ”Six Degrees of Jewish Separation,” “Guerrilla Marketing Tips for Small Businesses,” “Israel High-Tech” (which boasts an impressive 3,500 members), and “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” among others. When I put together my indie music podcast, I use my MySpace ID to contact the bands.

With all the information flowing this way and that, you’d think that the noise pollution on the web would have reached unbearable heights. At what point do you have to ask, “Who really cares what I’m doing at every hours of the day?”

An article last month by Clive Thompson in the New York Times suggests that people do care.

Thompson says that social scientists have given the sort of incessant online contact that Twitter and Facebook engender a name: “ambient awareness.” It is, Thomson writes, “very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.”

Thompson goes on. Each little update is insignificant on its own. “But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating.”

Twitter can even be seen as a partial solution to social isolation. Robert Putnam, in his book “Bowling Alone” describes a world in which the mobile workforce requires people to travel more frequently for work, leaving friends and family behind. Ambient intimacy becomes a way to “feel less alone.” And the kind of “weak ties” you have on social networks can actually help you solve problems more efficiently.

Thompson continues: “If you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself. Remote acquaintances will be much more useful, because they’re farther afield, yet still socially intimate enough to want to help you out.”

So far, I’m enjoying the new world of ambient intimacy. But I’m always looking for more friends ☺ If you’d like to join me, my Twitter address is


This article originally appeared on the site where I blog about trends and developments in all things interactive media – check it out:


Other social networking resources you might enjoy:

15 Things You Should Never Do on Facebook
Twitter Facts
The 7 Twitter Types

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