When I was still trying to understand Twitter
I had this conversation once with a friend who signed onto Twitter before I did.
“I’m in a chat.”
“On Twitter? How the hell do you chat in Twitter? Is there a room everyone goes to?”
“No, we just all follow each other.”
After this conversation I started to build up followers and followees (not a word, sorry) and began seeing these funny collections of tweets with words at the end preceded by the # symbol: hashtags. I went to my friend again.
“What the hell is a hashtag?”
“That’s for trending. Someone creates a trending hashtag.”
“Can anyone create a hashtag?”
“No, there are pre-assigned ones.”
This was when I stopped asking my friend for advice.
Trending and hashtags
I’m beginning to think at least 3/4 of what makes Twitter interesting came about entirely by accident. At some point, someone in the Twitter bunker said, “hey, why don’t we make it so people can look up popular keywords?” and someone else thought it was a cool idea, so they sacrificed a woodland creature to the god Chthulu and made it happen. (That is exactly how well I understand computer programming.)
And then a user– we’ll call her Twitter Patient Zero or TPZ– said, “hey, we can use the search function to communicate directly with other people we may not even be following, if we all put the same search word in our tweets!”
“Oho,” said Friend of TPZ, “That is an excellent idea, but how do we distinguish between people who just happened to use that word in their tweets and people who directed their tweets in the manner described above? And also, have you noticed we are using italics in our tweets here? How are we doing that?”
TPZ then had a genius moment. “We’ll put the # symbol in front of the word!” she declared.
“That’s brilliant!” Friend of TPZ agreed. “Let’s have sex!”
Okay, maybe the last part is just something going on in my head.
Getting a grip
There’s really no way to explain Twitter to someone who doesn’t use it without sounding stupid. “It’s like blogging, but in 140 character bursts,” you might say. Which sounds to those of us over the age of 30– especially those of us with English degrees who have been writers for some time and who are known to accidentally write blog posts over 1000 words long during fifteen minutes at lunch– like a further dumbing-down of our short-attention-span society, and blah blah blah you’re probably not reading this far.
I’m nearly positive Twitter began as a social network for people texting on their phones. (I could probably google this to determine if it is in fact accurate, but hey, time’s a-wasting.) That it has morphed into something very different– I very rarely tweet from my phone and I’m sure I’m not the only one– is one of the things I find so interesting about it.
In defense of Twitter
Given enough time you will stumble across people you like to talk to, who want to talk to you, and it requires even less commitment than Facebook. At least 3/4 of the people I follow are writers or people (like agents and publishers) directly involved in the writing profession. I could run over one of them on the street and likely never know they’re someone I follow.
One could argue that this is another sign that the Internet is depersonalizing our socialization. But maybe the fact that the other person is a writer is the only thing about them that matters to me. And that means our relationship is at exactly the right level.
And… actually, I have more to say, but #scifichat is about to start. Gotta run.