Talking To The Men To Blame For Twitter

by Noam Scheiber | April 19, 2009

From the Journal's Saturday interview with Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.

"It's pretty bizarre," says co-founder Evan Williams, 37. "At least once per day we look at each [other] and say, 'What the hell?'

You and me both, buddy.  

Anyone I've ever talked to about this knows I'm a real Twitter* curmudgeon. I figured I'd take this opportunity to explain what my beef is.  

What I find useful about Twitter are the social-networking applications. Like this stuff from the Journal interview:

The real Twitter revolution may prove to be much more everyday. When I stop for a latte at Peet's Coffee on the way to the interview, the manager tells me that he plans to start sending out tweets to let regular customers know when a table is open. He isn't alone. A Manhattan bakery twitters when warm cookies come out of the oven. "It's those small stories that really inspire us," says Mr. Stone. "Those are the things that transform people's lives." ...

"It took us a while to figure out that it really was a big deal," says Mr. Williams. It was at the annual South by Southwest tech conference/music festival in Austin, Texas, in March 2008, that the social power of Twitter came home to the co-founders. "I found myself watching groups of people twittering each other to coordinate their actions -- which bar to go to, which speech to attend -- and it was like seeing a flock of birds in motion," says Mr. Stone.

Right. So, setting aside the massive devaluation of the word "revolution," I won't disagree that there's some utility here, albeit marginal.

What I find completely maddening about Twitter is the idea that it's some new journalistic medium--which is to say, that it conveys information more meaningful than "warm cookies out of the oven." ("Twitter--for people who think live-blogging's too thoughtful...") There are a large number of ways you can arrange 140 characters. But, so far, I'm aware of very few that clear the "warm cookies" bar.

Not that I'm opposed to journalists tweeting, mind you. I just don't think they should pretend they're practicing journalism while they do it.

*For those not familiar with the application--are there any such people left?--Twitter allows people to send out "tweets," which are basically text messages that can be read online by large audiences, not just a single recipient.

--Noam Scheiber

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