Thoughts on Twitter #10: Why we all view Twitter differently

thots on twitter logo[Part of the RexBlog “Thoughts on Twitter” series.]

(Note: This is adapted from a segment of a recent project that included an explanation of how Twitter is not just what one sees on the Twitter.com website. For many readers of this blog, it is “old ground.” I thought others might find something in it of use. Later: And it’s especially timely as the official launch today of Google Realtime adds yet another major example of how people can view Twitter content without ever visiting the website, Twitter.com. For an excellent overview of Google Realtime, see (as always with Google feature launches like this) the explanation by Danny Sullivan.)

As I (and others) have said, the reason no one gets Twitter is because each user’s experience with Twitter is unique. If you follow more than a dozen or so Twitter accounts, the chances of you and another Twitter user being part of all the same Twitter conversations and observers of the same information stream becomes statistically improbable. Add to that, the Heraclitean nature of the ever-flowing stream (or, river) of tweets and you’ll realize that even as individuals, we can never step twice into the same experience with Twitter.

Another way we each experience Twitter uniquely (from one-another, and as individuals at different times) is the  ability for users (and publishers and developers) to easily  syndicate (or, subscribe to) content appearing on Twitter and then, “re-display” that content in near endless ways.

The creators of Twitter were wise enough to understand a few fundamental laws of the web (some of which are still confusing to those who bring legacy media logic and conventional business rationale to the internet).

From Day 1, they accepted as indisputable truths the following:

  • Those who use a service like Twitter aren’t creating content for a company. They are communicating with one another.
  • It’s extremely rare, not impossible, but rare, for a a pure-play Internet company to achieve a $1 billion if the strategy is limited to one URL. (In other words, “Twitter” has never been just about http://twitter.com.”)
  • Never explain what your service is or does or how you’ll make money. It’s weird, but those who are important at different stages of the development of something like Twitter, will know the answers to those questions by the time the product hits their radar. New Internet things are like jokes, if you have to explain it, there’s something wrong with the person you’ve told the joke to.

As I have used the telephone as a metaphor in previous Thoughts on Twitter posts, let’s consider that again: individuals “own” the content of their telephone conversations and we really don’t care what kind of  equipment the person at the other end of the conversation is using. So it is with Twitter: We can initiate or receive tweets in countless ways (and, pushing forward the telephone metaphor,  Twitter wants to have a monopoly on the enabling infrastructure — oops, that’s another post for another day.)

So to recap what I just said: Twitter.com is a website, but there are millions of Twitter users who rarely, if ever, visit that website. If you are reading this on my blog, you can see a “widget” in the right-hand column that display my most recent “tweets” — so you are using Twitter, without actually visiting Twitter.com.

Viewing Twitter Content via a Twitter Client

Additionally, there are countless Twitter clients, computer software applications, web-applications and mobile “apps” that are created by companies and individuals independent from Twitter that allow users to post or read Twitter content. These clients are designed for special purposes and special types of use, and provide various ways for individuals to manage and display content from Twitter . Such clients can be dashboard-like (one example: Seesmic), simple iPhone apps (Twitterific) or category-bending new ideas like Flipboard. (And, literally, thousands more).

Twitter.com displayed with
PowerTwitter browser extension

One of the reasons Twitter is so gigantic is that Twitter’s creators granted the permission and provided the tools and methods for third-party developers to create such products — for free. (Some heavy-duty users of Twitter data have special relationships that enable them to have even more access.

Viewing Twitter.com in New Ways

One of the downsides of being such a third-party developer of applications that run “on-top”  of a product like Twitter (or, perhaps a more correct metaphor is “on bottom”) is the knowledge that Twitter will continuously add new features that “fill holes” in the service — so if your “product” is something that Twitter believes is merely a “missing feature,” your “product” is likely going to one day be redundant to something on Twitter, itself. For example, I am currently experimenting with a browser extension called Power Twitter that enables a layer of features that could one day be user options, or a part of the product. Currently, with the third-party extension activated, I can make Twitter.com appear like it is shown on the photo to the right. It embeds into the Twitter stream the photos and videos that are linked to by the people I follow. (This feature is a part of several Twitter “dashboard” clients, as well.) It also translates the truncated URLs that are character-saving tactics used by Twitter users into a full-description of what the linked-to content is. (On the downside, it probably collects a lot of data about how I use Twitter that I don’t mind, but may bother others — so for that reason, I don’t recommend you use it, unless you familiarize yourself with its terms of use.) In other words, the extension pulls in content to my personal display of Twitter.com on my computer desktop, making the site appear more like what one might expect to see on Facebook or certain RSS newsreaders.

To some people, that may be a good thing. To others, it may seem at odds with what they think Twitter is all about. But that’s what I mean when I say, we’ll never “get” Twitter:  Each person has an individual preference for how things should be sliced, diced and displayed — which, come to think of it, is also the only explanation I can think of for mullet haircuts.