Why do the Twitterific, Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone apps preference against tweets in the recent past? For example, if I want to catch up with what’s happened overnight – the US day – the feed has a gap in it jumping from, say, 3 hours ago to 16 hours ago. The Twitter for iPhone app lets you load more into the gap, but it’s not ideal.
It’s not as if I want to necessarily read all of those tweets, I’m quite happy to fish what I want out of the passing river of news, and let the rest go. And it’s not that I’m not comfortable with the philosophy that if something important has happened the river will deliver it a number of times over. What I don’t understand is why the apps choose not to just let the river flow past me. What possible reason is there to preference tweets from 16 hours or a few days ago over what happened in the last 10 hours?
A month or two ago I started an experiment to see if could keep up with the news just by following links from my Twitter updates, instead of scrolling through the sea of crap on the front pages of online papers like the Age, SMH and others. I’m happy to say it’s been an easy transition, and today I took it a step further by changing my bookmarks for those two newspapers to their opinion sections.
Twitter has now developed and then taken away three functions that made it exciting for me to use.
1. Track was taken away a year ago. Only some of us tasted it, but it was da bomb. Twitter knows.
2. SMS notification was taken away from Australians (and some other non-US countries) about 9 months ago. It was a buzz to receive tweets from a couple of good friends via phone. It was the whole rationale behind Twitter in the first place.
3. The @reply brouhaha that erupted yesterday is still unfolding, but it looks as if the underlying desire is to limit following through to conversations one’s friends are having with people you are not following. As many people have said, serendipitous discovery is one of the richer aspects of Twitter.
When I went overseas last year I took lots of photos for my own record and pleasure. People always say they are interested in seeing photos from trips, but more often than not they don’t really engage with them. But I did try to make a short photoset to show to people who said they were interested. The paradox I discovered was that the more I culled, the less interesting the photos became: you are drawn to choose the more iconic rather than the idiosyncratic. For instance, if you have to choose one photo to represent your time in Paris, you are more likely to pick the Eiffel Tower, rather than the funny alleyway litter bin that you could imagine becoming a puppet character. However, it is the layering of the unexpected and unusual like the latter, which sets up rich memories and stories of a place for the person who experienced them. In the same way, Twitter and it’s users might find themselves operating within a similar paradox.
In the meantime we wait for Friendfeed or others to do what Twitter has so far reneged on.
My little kinetic sculpture of the lovely Twitter Fail Whale, based on the image by Yiying Lu that is used when twitter.com is over-capacity. The image is called ‘Lifting up a Dreamer’. I’ve wanted to make this since I first saw the image some weeks ago.
This is a short video of it in action, complete with twittering birds!
More photos here. (Update: fail whale widget here)
I remain optimistic and supportive of Twitter in the long term, because I think the real-time courier service rationale that was the founding impetus of the service constitutes a new branch off Doc Searls’ live web, and makes our online interactions a quantum step closer to Allen Searl’s original vision of ‘a Web where anybody could contact anybody else and ask or answer a question in real time’. Twitter’s track facility, presently down but still promised, provides the real-time search of people and and what they are talking about right now.
Maybe the progression of branching-off goes a little like this:
static web > live web > real time web
google > blogosphere > twittosphere
our property > our history in time > our real-time conversation
search by sending out bots> search by listening for pings > search by tracking people and words in real time
It may be that Twitter’s primacy will be usurped by some other real-time service that gets up ahead of them in the race; I hope not. But many great progressive ideas start off serendipitously or in fun without their full implications or potential being known, and in those circumstances it’s silly in hindsight to say the founders ought to have seen further, planned better and acted quicker than they did.
I started out in the social web in the mid 90′s at bulletin boards and discussion forums. When my focus shifted to blogs, the comments in blogging generally seemed a poor substitute, more like guest books. There were exceptions of course, but they were still gardens in the conversation marketplace.
I had an idea today that Twitter is turning the relationship of blogging and commenting upside-down. Twitter is now a first stop central conversation marketplace, where the talk about blogs or the events of the day happens. Looked at socially, blogs, with their conversations followed clunkily in comments from blog to blog, or through aggregators, are not the main game anymore. Rather, they become more like important background material for what is talked about, and a form of identity.
Perhaps the essential drive to find real connection is serendipitously re-purposing micro blogging into the something closer to a satisfactory and more freewheeling conversation hub than other more calculated avenues have achieved so far. Perhaps FriendFeed and others will take it further.