Thoughts on Twitter #2: Twitter means never having to say you get it


I am always intrigued by how people — even those who have never used Twitter before — describe what they think it is. In some ways, it sounds like a blind person trying to describe the color blue. But in other ways, it’s like a sighted person trying to describe the color blue. It’s just not something blind or sighted people need to do — blue is blue. It’s light blue or dark blue or the blue of a crisp spring-day afternoon or the blue of a tempest-tossed sea. Blue is best described in metaphors — not in scientific formulas that measure the refraction of light or in PMS numbers.

Twitters that way. The more you try to describe it, the more you realize you’re getting more and more bogged down in metaphors and dependent on ways that describe what you can use Twitter to do — not what Twitter is. That, or you get bogged down in a technical argument about protocols or identity or business models.

As I have said and will say over-and-over until I get it right, nothing you ever hear people say about Twitter should surprise you anymore. If you hear someone say school systems should drop math requirements in order to require children to take courses on how to use Twitter, don’t be surprised. If tomorrow, you wake up and hear that everyone has decided to never use Twitter again, don’t be surprised.

Nothing you hear about Twitter is reality — it’s someones perception. But it’s not reality.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll try again: As much as you want to think you get Twitter, you don’t. The people who created Twitter didn’t get it — and they still don’t, as I’ll get to in a later post.

And you don’t get Twitter. And neither do I.

We don’t get Twitter even if we:

Thoroughly understand how you use Twitter.

Thoroughly understand everything possible about how Twitter’s underlying technology or API works.

Thoroughly understand all the marketing, PR, communication, community, fund-raising, public safety, policy, promotional, governmental, educational, religious, health-care, journalistic, philosophical, etc., etc. uses and implications of Twitter.

Attend every conference, seminar, workshop, camp, tweetup or university course on Twitter.

Have a million followers and post a thousand tweets.

Understand the psychological or practical reasons different types of people use Twitter to bolster their ego, cope with depression or any number of mental illnesses, build their personal brands, develop family-only emergency communication networks, broadcast random updates to friends or track information and relationships related to their work or personal lives.

Track and comprehend all of the third-part applications that provide a wide array of practical solutions for segmenting and organizing groups of people, topics of discussions.

Unfortunately, the more you know about Twitter, the more you realize it is incomprehensible.

More unfortunately, the moment you decide you’ve got it, you become a defender of your point-of-view. You become a traditionalist and advocate of that point of view. For example, if you believe the point of Twitter is “social media,” then you claim those who believe it is a means to send out news headlines don’t get it. If you decide you get it as something that is a time-wasting exercise in ego-boosting, you cut yourself off from understanding its potential to save lives in an emergency.

Your goal should not be to comprehend Twitter. Your goal should be to use Twitter in the service of your specific passions and interests — not someone elses.

My advice to anyone about Twitter is this: stop being obsessed with Twitter itself. It’s just one little instrument (literally, “little,” say, about the size of a percussionist’s triangle) in an orchestra of online instruments with which people may express themselves, be creative, form community, send out alerts, links and headlines, etc. When you start thinking any one instrument is the whole orchestra, you miss the point.

If you are passionate about Oprah, then, fine, Twitter is an Oprah-following tool. If you are passionate about keeping up with swine flu, then Twitter is a swine-flu tracking tool. If you are passionate about communicating with 500 other people who joke around with each other, Twitter is a community chat tool. (I could go on and on.)

As I said the other day, Twitter is best understood by individuals in the way Apple advertises the iPhone: by defining it in ways that help you understand what you can do with the iPhone, rather than by trying to define the iPhone.

No matter what you are interested in or passionate about, there’s a way to use Twitter for that.