Twitter’s About to go Public But What is It?
With Twitter expected to go public this week, what exactly is it?
An “unspeakably irritating” distraction, Jonathan Franzen once called it.
Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.
Fellow author Joyce Carol Oates is a bit more generous, even if she thinks Twitter’s more or less a waste of time: “Composing a tweet mimics the brain-activity of actual work & is thus highly addictive without being highly productive.”
But wait, says the author Austin Kleon. It is productive. He calls Twitter “a machine for book invention.”
Twitter is where we first get our thoughts down. Twitter is our public notebook, the place where we think out loud, let other people think back at us, then hopefully think some more.
Or, if we move out of the literary world, think of it as a giant data platform. Via the Wall Street Journal:
Social-data firms spot trends that it would take a long time for humans to see on their own. The United Nations is using algorithms derived from Twitter to pinpoint hot spots of social unrest. DirecTV uses Twitter data as an early-warning system to spot power outages based on customer complaints… The Red Cross began analyzing Twitter data during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy… using social-media-generated heat maps to direct aid.
With all that data though, Twitter’s a noisy, unfiltered firehose for the everyday user, argues TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, and he expects that casual user to leave the platform.
But, if we think of it another way and wax metaphorical, we might consider Twitter along the same lines as Alena Smith:
If Twitter can be thought of as a city (and, with 500 million accounts and 200 million active users, it’s vastly more crowded than any city in the world), then it is, literally, a city of rhetoric. Twitter is a fast-moving, ever-shifting virtual urban space that consists entirely of language, of messages, of communicatory blocks of symbols that circulate throughout this digital megalopolis rapidly, widely, and unpredictably.
Analysts expect the IPO to take place Thursday and raise about $1.7 billion.
So, the question remains, what is Twitter? Micro-blogging platform? Data platform? News channel? Second screen for watching a favorite TV show? The answer, of course, is, Yes.
Image: The first tweet, via Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.