On The Gang this Friday, Dan Farber asked me what I was doing in this new gig – a column or a blog? No difference, I replied. Just like there’s no difference between mainstream and bloggospherian journalism and commentary. This is my opinion, and in the self-contained universe that is this space, it’s the guiding principle, the law, the prime directive, the universal theory. I am the writer, editor, judge, and jury. The one thing you won’t find here is more of this argument.
It’s not that other opinions aren’t valid. It’s just that we don’t have enough time for it in this rapidly developing technology environment, where the simple abstraction of XML has unleashed the most incredible ongoing innovation cycle most of us have ever seen. Sure, for some of the original pioneers of computing, the rush of insight at its most foundational level probably felt like this – Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston with the spreadsheet, Bill Atkinson with the screen redraw he thought he saw but then “reinvented” into existence, Adam Curry and Dave Winer when they prodded each other into the RSS enclosure.
Today’s brainstorm is Twitter. When it first surfaced I circled it like a bear does a baby seal – not quite looking at it, not believing it could be such an easy target, having no idea whatsoever of its apparent or eventual usefulness. But something about this stupid 140-character limit and haughty self-promotional beacon in the cybernight gave off an eery glow, the faint hint of what is coming. Twitter, when combined with such obscure hacks as TinyURL, podcasts, blogs, and most disruptively I suggest, executable code, has spawned a communications platform that will blow right past everything except platforms that allow it to dominate.
The heart of it is the hunger for immediate update, the news, the jolt of disruption, the possibility of synaptic leaps. It began as each program did with ‘Hello, World’ and quickly evolved to conversation, the back and forth of discourse. Soon it became the disrupter of static search, where you searched for people instead of what they said. ‘Who knows how to hook up this printer?’ ‘Is it spring ahead fall back or feed the cold starve the fever?’
The international community entered stage left; where blogging and publishing had siloed, twitterers created a ballpark wave that followed the sun westward as news developed. By noon Pacific, the shape of the news was hammered into a burnished form, molded in Techmeme and the jaunty thrusts of TechCrunch, Hardball, and the new journal of record, accessed via the Twitter API.
Just as Google Reader reached a crescendo of adoption that triggered the freewaring of NewsGator, NetNewsWire, and FeedDemon, Twitter aggregators stole the momentum of shared items and transferred it to the Twittersphere. Podcasts, which had languished during the video bubble, returned with a new lease as the iPhone Flash barrier and drivetime bandwidth ubiquity swamped NPR and Disney Radio, even All-Beatles channels. Suddenly people looked forward once more to dishwashing, exercise, long commutes, and the constant drumbeat of the mobile Twitter client.
The key to this signalling network is the duality of Twitter posts – both personal and public in equal doses. Personal data such as what I’m reading or listening to conspire with public data such as what news is important to us and what news isn’t to cut through the glut with surprising efficiency. Each of us has to perform an instant editorial calculation of the relative value of the data as divided by the nature of the cloud of followers into which the post is injected. Overlapping circles of influence and authority resonate like a pebble tossed in a smooth pond.
What results is an elastic and supple map of how to transit the information space, contoured by the relative effectiveness of the editorial agenda of each poster and its success at attracting the right audience. Just as the 140 character “limit” promotes clarity and focus, the decision to follow is not taken lightly for fear of upsetting the value of the aggregate flow by having it accelerate beyond the ability to absorb it. Each node must traverse a high wire between value and noise.
On The Gang this Friday, we opened the lines up to the Twittersphere first via my smaller cloud of followers, then dramatically midway through when Calacanis and Scoble engaged their huge yet overlapping audiences. The resultant swarm of comments, questions, and even more powerfully, @ crosstalk communications between nodes produced an energy that we will certainly exploit as much as we can, and assume will be understood and emulated most quickly in the very space where it might seem least applicable, the enterprise. Hello, world.