What I Favor vs. What Twitter Likes

I used to write a lot about Twitter. For example, here is a collection of 10,000+ words I wrote in a series of blog posts called “Thoughts on Twitter.” In brief, all those words say that Twitter was (they were written years ago) great because no two people use it the same way. And anyone who tried to explain how one was supposed to use Twitter broke the first rule of Twitter: You can’t make up rules for how others use Twitter. Back then, Twitter was a feature of a failed product (Odeo) that lived on past the product failure to become an  easy  means to send out a group text message. Back then, the cool things about Twitter were being created by its users. [Most obvious example: @ChrisMesinna  (not the actor) who is responsible for the #hashtag.]

Rather than repeat any more of those 10,000 words, I’ll stop there and say, Twitter is best when you realize it now belongs to someone else, someone who tomorrow could decide that the #hashtag should be a ~tilde or the star should become a heart.

Twitter is now like professional football.  Imagine if all football was eight years ago was (hash)tag football played in a parking lot and today it had to be the NFL, a $billion business that has to make money from huge advertisers and fans who just want to see the game and buy a hot dog.

People say, “professional sports are no longer about the game, they are just part of the entertainment business.” But people who are really fans of a specific sport or team can find a way to peer through the hype and corporate greed and recognize that somewhere buried in all that crap, the game still exists.

Bottomline: Like it, or favorite it, Twitter belongs to the people who own it, not the people who use it. The people who run it will keep trying to “fix” it so the owners will like it. The people who use it will put up with all those useless “fixes” if they can recognize that it’s still tag football under all that crap. If they don’t see the game, they’ll use it to promote what they are doing somewhere else that’s more fun.

The Oreo tweet: The double-stuff you can’t do by committee is king

A few seconds after I saw the Super Bowl power outage “Oreo Tweet” last night, this is what I tweeted (note: the time-stamp is GMT). Below it, you’ll find my “Monday morning” 5:30 a.m. thoughts:

Monday morning, 5:30 a.m.:

I’m not a fan of long explanations of the self-evident, but I know there will be so much mis-interpretation of why “the Oreo tweet” was brilliant, I wanted to weigh in before the SEO folks (Huffington Post) start their “10 lessons you can learn from the Oreo tweet” re-hash.

So, here are my two take-aways for “professional marketing” use of Twitter. (Note: There are countless ways to use Twitter, and far more important ways, than mere marketing.)

1. Content isn’t king. Brilliant, creative content is king.

Twitter is something you’ll never understand until you stop listening to what gurus and experts tell you it is and use it yourself for a few years. (See.) Only then will you understand Twitter beyond buzzwords like “engagement” and “conversational.” You’ll comprehend it at a visceral level — as a Heraclitean river that always looks the same, but is never the same. You’ll know how its impact comes from knowing the role of professional users of Twitter: marketers, media-types, tech-savvy, pop-culture hipsters — the tipping point “influencers” — the types who have large numbers of followers (connectors) who, in turn, have large numbers of followers. Twitter’s brilliance is like the brilliance of fireflies in a Mason jar, however. It lasts a nano-second. And for marketers, it requires the type of courage you rarely find at a company the size of Nabisco: It must be done with no corporate safety net other than telling the wittiest, smartest, fastest, craziest creative people you can hire that the only rules are don’t be stupid, never use a Hitler reference, and don’t get the company sued or me fired — and get out of the way.

2. Like blogging before it, Twitter rewards instantaneous, improvisational creativity — and courage. I wrote about the role of improvisation in blogging in 2006 (it’s more important than grammar). Here’s some of what I wrote then:

“While integrity, honesty, ethical standards of journalism, etc., can still govern the practice of blogging, the “process” of institutional editing and legal compliance and corporate communications, et al, all conspire against someones ability to extemporize or be courageous. Like independent film and music, independent blogging will likely always be the most compelling….It’s like jazz.”

It will be hard for those who read about the Oreo tweet later to understand why it was “brilliant” — however, if you experienced it live and you are a long-time “professional” user of, and student of, Twitter and the social media that came before it, you witnessed it in the same way a jazz musician who hears someone insert an amazing lick into a jazz standard understands that the lick will change the song forever.

Linkage: Buzzfeed – “How Oreo got that Twitter ad up so fast” Quote: “The key? Having OREO executives in the room, and ready to pull the trigger. ‘You need a brave brand to approve content that quickly. When all of the stakeholders come together so quickly, you’ve got magic,'”

Why the death of a celebrity lights up Twitter

I used to blame the vacuous nature of a pop-culture-obsessed society for why we all seem so pre-occupied with the death of celebrities. But when Michael Jackson died, even I felt a little saddened — and frankly, the guy creeped me out.

I thought about it and determined that Jackson’s era roughly matched up with my teenage years through the day he died, so what I decided I was feeling was a little mourning for my life’s playlist.

I guess that’s why, when I tweeted a similar feeling about Whitney Houston earlier this evening, so many people re-tweeted it (25+ within a few moments of it being posted). Her family and personal friends are probably the only ones who actually lost Whitney. But with her death, I lost a little piece of me.

I really, really hope she finds peace on the other side.


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.

Twitter is something you’ll never understand, so stop trying

[Note: I posted this in February, 2008, but it has continued to be one of this blog’s most visited pages. Thanks.]

I’m sorry if you landed here thinking this was going to be a helpful explanation about what Twitter is. I’ve given up on attempting to explain Twitter. And chances are, if you’re someone who wants to understand something by reading about it instead of using it, then you’ll probably never understand it.

Twitter is really easy to explain: You set up an account so people can follow what you have to say via the web or instant messaging or via text-messaging on a mobile phone. Unfortunately, Twitter is apparently incredibly difficult to understand, because any time I explain it, the response is inevitably something like: “Uh, so why would you want people to do that — and why would they care?”

Unlike with some online phenomena, understanding Twitter is not a “generational” thing. Twitter is not one of those fads that caught on among kids that has worked its way up the age-chain. It’s more like Google, in that it started as a drop-dead simple solution to a problem no one knew they had — and has become an obsession with a sub-set of tech-geeks and people obsessed with the nature of online community and conversation (I confess).

My then 16-year-old son was with me last March at South by Southwest where Twitter first grabbed the attention of the geekorati. He observed the obsession’s ground-zero, but I’m sure he’d echo the quote from the daughter of this NY Times columnist, who says, “I’m looking at the site right now, and I don’t get the point.” Here’s my theory why teenagers don’t get the point: There’s a feature on Facebook called “status updates” that does everything a teenager would care to do with Twitter, so why bother? To high school and college students, Twitter is like Facebook without the dozens of other things they like about Facebook — except on Facebook, your parents can’t follow you if you don’t allow them to. (You can block someone on Twitter or opt to limit the visibility of your message to only those you follow, but the common practice is to allow anyone to become a follower — really, why not?)

I’d feel worse about my inability to convey to others any level of understanding of why Twitter is important but in comparison to some explanations I’ve seen and heard, I do a decent job. But, unfortunately, we all fail because we drift into explaining Twitter by telling how we use it. But the most amazing thing about Twitter is this: everyone uses it differently.

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. “Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.” “Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.” “Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.”

Like the Internet itself, Twitter is hard to explain because it doesn’t really have a point. And it has too many points. Here’s what I mean: All it does is provide a common-place to relay short messages to a group of people who agree to receive your messages. Here’s the second part of what i mean: When you stop thinking those short messages aren’t limited to “I’m about to get on the elevator” but can be eye-witness accounts of breaking news stories or bursts of business-critical intelligence, or warnings that a gun-man is loose on campus, or shared conversations about political debates you and your friends are watching on TV, the possibilities of what can be done using Twitter becomes amazingly confusing — I think in a good way. It’s easy to understand something when you think it’s limited to Prince Albert in a can prank calls. It’s more difficult to understand when you start imagining the ways something that’s today more toy than tool can be used to create new models of communication, conversation and community. It’s even more difficult to imagine that something called Twitter will morph into a serious business platform — or that it will one day save lives. But it will.

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