Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tweet Talking

President Obama does it. So does Karl Rove.

So does Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong, Miley Cyrus and Al Gore. Ditto Orpah Winfrey, Yoko Ono, Steve Jobs and Neil Diamond.

They all use Twitter, the social networking phenomenon in which userscan instantly communicate via text to friends, fans and family whatthey are doing or thinking at any given moment.

"I'm eating a bowl of Fruit Loops." "I'm walking the dog." "I'm contemplating a nap."

These are only a few of the fascinating messages you can give or receive if you Twitter. Or Tweet, as they call it. (Does that make the participants Twits? I'm just asking).

Personally, I'd rather read the fine print on my cell phone bill.

But I'm wrong, according to Time magazine. An article in that publication tells me that "Twitter turns out to have unsuspected depth. In part this is because hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds.

"The technology writer Clive Thompson calls this "ambient awareness": by following these quick, abbreviated status reports from members of your extended social network, you get a strangely satisfying glimpse of their daily routines."

What does Time magazine know? It once selected Adolf Hitler as its "Man of the Year."

I don't have time to continually invest in the daily routines of my friends. And I doubt they would find an outpouring of messages about the mundane events in my life "strangely satisfying." If they do, they kinda creep me out.

Maybe it's my fault that I don't have friends or family that climb Everest or dine with Warren Buffet. But even if I did, I doubt they could convey the essence of these experiences in 140 characters or less.

I'm not alone here. The Nielsen research tells me that "Currently, more than 60 percent of Twitter users fail to return the following month or in other words, Twitter's audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month's users who come back thefollowing month, is currently about 40 percent."

And let's face it. Most of the stuff appearing on so-called celebrity tweets is written by public relations types and has all the substance of a bowl of meringue.


Brittany Spears: "I want to thank everyone at the Mandarin Oriental in London for the hospitality this month! You made my boys and I feel right at home -Brit."

President Obama: "Hosting a town hall on health care reform at the White House today. Watch on ABC tonight at 10pm ET."

Elen DeGeneres: "A big margarita sure is refreshing, but to really beat the heat, watch my show for a chance to win prizes! "

Michelle Wie: "Did you know that babies are born without knee caps? Weird!"

On it goes.

To give Twiter its due, it along with other social networking sites most certainly has played a role in the recent post-election protests in Iran. Indeed, it has helped keep the rest of the world connected to events inside the country as the Iranian leadership repressed dissent and the coverage of it.
And while we'd like to imagine that a tool designed to entertain attention-deprived adolescents will change the balance of power in the Mideast, it's not that simple.

First, it gives too much credit to the tool, not the people who use it.

Second, as foreign policy expert Evgeney Morozov told the Washington Post "...Whether it has helped to organize protests -- something that most of the media are claiming at the moment -- is not at all certain, for, as a public platform, Twitter is not particularly helpful for planning a revolution (authorities could be reading those messages as well.")

Some day down the road, Twitter will be superseded by some other networking device, perhaps some sort of "Star Trek" transporter system so you can actually stand by while your friend brushes his teeth or buys a loaf of bread.

In the meetime, beware of how you tweet.

A story making the rounds on the Internet tells of a guy who just got a job with Cisco, the giant technology firm. He tweeted, "Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work." His tweet caught the attention of a Cisco employee. To which he responded: "Who is the hiring manager. I'm sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web."

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