I’ve been listening to Nick Bilton’s book on the origins of Twitter for a few weeks now. The thing that’s caught my attention is the fact that the people involved in its creation had only the vaguest idea of how it might be used. Twitter has become the quintessential example of users adopting a technology and taking in directions that were impossible to predict. That might be messy, perhaps even scary, but it is exciting.
For researchers in lots of different disciplines, including the social historians of the future, Twitter is (or will be) a remarkable resource. Whatever your view of the noise and narcissism, the many different ways in which people use Twitter is creating something substantive - a window on early 21st century connected societies.* It's more than just everyday fluff. In the long-run, that 'fluff' might be just as significant as anything else on Twitter. As always, context is everything.
Anyone who's heard Euan Semple speak will know that he often highlights David Weinberger’s suggestion that by blogging people are ‘writing themselves into existence’. With Twitter it seems we’re all doing that - it’s just that we’re doing it in bursts of ‘140 characters or less’.**
*We should acknowledge that the use of any technology is dependent on having the means to do so; something that is never a given. Twitter also highlights perennial recordkeeping questions in areas such as appraisal and preservation - themes for another time, perhaps.
**To mis-quote slightly the founders of Twitter.