Hard News by Russell Brown


The Short and Long of It

My friends' clever teenage daughter started following on Twitter on Saturday. She joined three weeks ago with the words: "ew, twitter, I can't believe I caved". It seems that it's now compulsory to be jaded about Twitter before you start using it. (Her next tweet, 14 minutes later, was "character number limitations on usernames is about as fascist as the futurists". I did say she was clever.)

Well … I like Twitter. And I can hardly be accused of getting down the kids, given that the kids don't do it. Probably. The much-discussed Morgan Stanley research note from 15 year-old Matthew Robson ("Twitter is not for teens") was intriguing, even illuminating, but essentially anecdotal.

The Guardian found two more teenagers, who said, actually, they did read newspapers, but, as one said: "teenagers are disenchanted with sites such as Twitter attempting to become the next big thing and remain Facebook-faithful."

The Guardian grown-ups further debated the issue -- because there's nothing else to worry about in the world, right? -- and some of what they said rang true. This comment:

Twitter isn't the holy grail, nor is it Satan personified. It's just a web-service that lots of people seem to like. Whether or not you use it will most likely not affect the millions of non-celebrity, non-media types that chat with their friends and with strangers - it certainly doesn't merit the backlash it gets from people who have no interest in it.

And this one:

Twitter is chaos; teenagers prefer organised chaos - think of a MySpace profile with 30 different songs automatically starting at the same time or the hilarity of the 9,000 applications installed on one teenager's Facebook profile. Twitter is not a viable medium for them.

It is precisely the way Facebook seeks to organise me that jibes. It seems redolent of the irritating hypersocialisation of American college culture. It's dating and yearbooks writ large. It wants me to behave in a way I don't behave.

I have a Facebook page, of course, because I need to be available to people who do actively use it, but I almost grit my teeth every time I go there. If I haven't responded to your friend request, it's not because I don't like you. It's not all bad: it's fun when I'm tagged in a vintage photograph. YMMV, naturally. (And I truly do appreciate the birthday greetings my Facebook friends write on my wall.)

Twitter, on the other hand, is a simple web service that my friends and I can knead into the shape that suits us. Because I am a famous blogger, I have 1100 followers, but most of the people I follow are personally known to me. I like Ben Goodger's existential murmurings from the coding coalface, and Chad Taylor progress reports (as spare and economical as all his prose -- the guy could get by fine in 50 characters), and Hickey, Saarinen, Slack and the others. I'll post interesting links and plug PA posts, but sometimes I'll just shoot the breeze. I even find myself using Twitter as an email or IM substitute. It's so quick and accessible. When I return to my computer, Ill click Tweetie first.

I spoke to PR consultant Paul Blomfield this week. He uses Twitter searches for media monitoring on his clients. Other people I know use it to make contact with leaders in their professional fields. My friend Brian uses Tweetdeck to post simultaneously to Twitter and Facebook.

The mediaphile in me likes the meta-perspectives to which Twitter lends itself. Because it is so open, there are multiple third-party services based on trendspotting. That openness also means a choice of applications. My experience improved a lot once I started using Tweetie, in both its desktop and iPhone versions. The comparison to Facebook is pretty stark in that respect.

The brevity and directness offers me a more immediate outlet than the fully-fleshed posts that tend to appear here on Public Address. I even actually enjoy paring back my thoughts to 140 characters. It's good practice.

Essentially, Twitter is poetic, and Facebook is administrative.

And I've always been better at one than the other.


There has been a bit of chatter about Lance Wiggs' post Why I don’t read Public Address. I got a bit snippy (with some reason) in the comments that followed, but it was a useful and lively discussion.

Some of Lance's criticisms (the "expectation" that a post should contain only one topic; the view that PA posts are "far too long for the internet media") don't move me, and the "political blog rankings" he quotes don't actually reflect real traffic -- but I'm naturally concerned if people do find aspects of the site difficult.

Being able to do something about it is another matter, but I'm hoping to have a redesign that better integrates PA "classic" and System in place by the end of the year. And that much-desired edit button will be introduced as part of a revamp of the forums functionality within the month. (Although if Karl at CactusLab needs to spend more time with new baby Arthur, he should do that.) The work will eat up a fair chunk of the year's income, but that's life.

In the meantime -- and to answer one common complaint -- don't forget that you can enlarge the text on Public Address with the text-size widget that's on every page. And is there demand for full RSS feeds as an option? I'd prefer people to come to the website (and not only for advertising reasons), but if there's a demand from the community here I'll look at it.

And for all that I sometimes wonder about the zeal of WordPress afficiandos (it's content platform, not a religion), WordCamp NZ, August 8 and 9 in Wellington, is shaping as a landmark event. And it's at a bowling club!

PS: Our first in-studio Media7 is now online. The panel talks about PR and journalism -- and Jock Anderson expresses his dissatisfaction with PRINZ' handling of his ethics complaint against Glenda Hughes. Then we look at the global newspaper crisis and hear from both Barry Colman and Bernard Hickey. It looks a lot more swish than it did at The Classic …

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