I’ve already mentioned here how the value of Twitter was lost on me at first. I now want to talk about why I think Twitter makes sense and where it fits in.
First let’s separate the users by what they do with the application. There are two roles any one participant can play. At any given point in time they are either a reader or a writer. This is true for any publish/subscribe set up, so we can now consider the application or any other traditional medium (like human conversations) from the reader/writer perspective.
It’s no surprise that the effort required to create a single tweet is extremely small, so the barrier to entry for a writer on Twitter is also extremely low. A writer can generate a tweet in a matter of seconds. Not only can this be done rapidly, but it’s also be done on the go. In effect this drives up the number of writers in the system.
Now compare that to a typical blog writer. Maintaining a blog requires a huge, and often contiguous allocation of time. A decent blog post probably takes 30 minutes to 2 hours to create, that’s several orders magnitude more than what is required for creating a tweet.
I believe this is to be the main limiting factor depressing the number of blog writers. There are just not many people with this level of dedication and amount of free time to blog in a sustainable manner and to be successful in having a sizable following of readers.
So, yes, Twitter has a lot more writers, which in my view compensates for the relative shortness of messages. But it also drives up the barrier to entry for the reader since the reader must now process more disparate pieces of information. Whereas blog readers’ time is distributed among a handful of blogs with are updated daily, tweet readers’ time and attention must be distributed over a much large set of tweets which appear every minute.
So how does Twitter solve the reader problem? Well, Twitter makes it really easy to filter tweets and go from one tweet to another. The filtering thing for blogs is too coarse-grained and even if keyword searches are used they can only get us so far since it’s often difficult to express the filter in terms of keywords only. On Twitter, every person is a filter. Collectively the people you follow are a distributed content filtration system. As a reader, you tune this filtration system by selecting the people you follow.
In essence I see two fundamental differences of tweeting vs. blogging:
- High ratio of writers to readers, and less overhead for writing
- More natural person-oriented filtering capacity for the readers
Then what about blogs? Have their relevance been gobbled up by our shortening attention spans as readers and our laziness as writers?
I like to think of it as snacking versus having a complete N course dinner. You get your calories just the same, but you when you sit down to dinner what you eat is hopefully more balanced, nuanced, and thought out. It’s a more wholesome and a more lasting and altogether memorable experience.
If we now turn to the evolutionary component of this (which incidentally I know very little about, so I am opening myself up to ridicule here), humans are conditioned by evolution to like stories. They offer a lesson that can be internalized that that can prove beneficial or even vital later on down the road.
Likewise our survival often depends on short messages or alerts that tell us, roughly speaking, when danger or reward is on its way. I am obviously oversimplifying this since there are many different types of short messages that we could possibly be conditioned to care about besides the danger and reward ones.
The psychological divide between blogs and tweets, from the reader perspective, is that the former offer lasting lessons and the latter succinct smoke signals for what may be right around the corner. Obviously, both must represent some value to the recipient.