The rumor that Twitter is abandoning Ruby on Rails comes as no surprise to those familiar with Twitter’s shaky uptime record and its tendency to lose its mind in increasingly impressive and creative ways.
So, new platform. Fine. Saw that coming. What continues to surprise me is this: why aren’t we more pissed when Twitter goes mute for three hours? How about when those tweets you sent just vanished? How come delete only works 50% of the time? Why aren’t the Twitterati bolting to Pownce?
The answer comes down to value. In the time that I’ve been using Twitter, it’s transformed from a curiosity to an essential service. What were seemingly random status updates have now become organized into organic conversational threads that bring a steady flow of relevant content across my desktop.
“Rands, you mean, just like an RSS reader?”
Yeah yeah yeah, that’s not the key value. The value lies in the network of people and how they illuminate the things I don’t know.
Don’t Give Me What I Asked For, Give Me What I Want
When I ask a question, I’m looking for an answer in one of three ways:
- Specifics. Just answer the question directly and cleanly. I am the king of finding specifics. Average rainfall in Honokaa, HI? Yeah, that took three seconds to find.
- Like or Related. Rather than answer the specific question, how about a related answer? I’m in a Sigur Ros mood — what should I listen to? Ratatat. Google can help with related answers, but useful discovery rates begin to drop here because relation is subjective. It’s influenced by personal preference — a judgment call. It helps if you know me before you suggest that this is like that and you think I’ll like it.
- Rock My World. Fuck my question. Rands, here’s a random thing I know you need to know. There is no technological solution to knowing when or how to rock my world. Well, there is, but the technology is far less interesting than the people who use the technology, which brings us back to Twitter.
Affinity is the opposite of Infinity
Twitter is a social network, yes, but it’s a social network without the superpoke scrabtaculous zombie noise and, for that, I’m thankful, because I’ve got work to do. Yes, I could spend days tidying my profile and scrubbing my friends list, but to what end? I want to know more people, and sure, it’s interesting to see what they’re up to, but what I really want to know is what is going on inside their heads with a minimum of fuss.
I want to see how they see the world. This is why I follow people on Twitter. This is why they follow me.
I’ve already described how I maintain a healthy Twitter equilibrium. This lightweight following protocol keeps the average amount of content I receive at any given time to a readable volume and shields me from the increasing and poorly named problem of Twitter spam. As an aside, I don’t understand folks who are complaining about Twitter spam when it’s a fundamental tenet of Twitter: “You choose who you follow”.
There are two immediate networks that I care equally about. First, there are the folks I follow. I actually know or have met a majority of the people on my followed list, but there is also an increasing healthy dose of strangers.
The second list is the folks who are following me. Now, there are functional differences in how these two groups are treated by Twitter and its supporting cadre of third party applications, but, to me, there is no difference between those I choose to follow and those who choose to follow me. Both groups have amazingly high information value because of a simple choice: “By choosing to follow this person, I am acknowledging we may have something in common / an interesting intersection.”
The act of one human being choosing to follow another is a big deal. As long as nefarious intent is not in play, the connection creates what the social science nerds like to call an affinity map; by drawing a line between you and me, we can infer that we’re somehow connected. How are we connected? Who knows? Maybe you like nerd culture? How about gel pens? We’re not really going to know until we test that link by asking a question.
Via the LazyWeb convention, I expect reasonable, informed, and quick answers to most any question. Where I used to use Google, I now use Twitter for questions, because not only do I get the answer, I also get the opinion. And sometimes I get my world rocked with random, psychic, off-the-cuff, tangential information that Google will never give me because Google doesn’t know who I am.
We Travel in Tribes
I’m eagerly watching Twitter evolve and organize itself. I’m dazzled as third parties are giving Twitter memory and context. But what I care about, and what has value to me, is the tribe of people in my ecosystem. Twitter is the best social network out there; it’s a great social search engine; and it’s a short strategic hop from being a terrific next generation address book.
My tribe is not your tribe because you’re not using Twitter how I do. You wrote an Academy Award-winning screenplay, only follow a few people, but have thousands following you. You sell shoes and follow each of the thousands of people who follow you. You are a major airline, but sound surprisingly human.
Twitter’s value has nothing to do with the technology.
Measuring uptime is an interesting nerd exercise, but Twitter’s value lies in how it stays out of the way and allows people to easily connect so they can share their thoughts and, more importantly, explore their differences.