By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Don’t beam Alex up when it comes to Twitter

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam mocks Twitter. I sympathize. I ignored it for as long as I could, and jumped in recently only as it became clear that it was morphing into a journalistic tool of sorts.

I have not researched the demographics of Twitter, but I think Beam might have gotten one thing wrong. He begins, “You have heard about Twitter. Maybe. It’s something other people do, mainly younger people.”

My brief experience is actually the opposite — Twitter is social-networking for old farts like me. I know very few students who use it. I recently asked Media Nation Jr. — a certified Facebooking, BlackBerrying, text-messaging fanatic — and he’d never even heard of it.

Maybe Twitter will go away. For the moment, though, it’s something journalists need to understand.

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  1. acf

    Dan: After I saw your first mention of Twitter, I looked at it, and I'll be damned if I see the point. I'm 59, to give you a reference point, and consider myself fairly tech savvy, going back to its earliest days, but I don't get this. I don't want my every move seen, I'm not interested in your every move, either. Other than a certain voyeuristic interest in people I don't know, why bother? Color me 'waiting & willing to be enlightened'PS The other day, in one of your earlier tests, you made the 'comments' line red, to make it stand out more. Could you try that , or some other non gray color again?Thanks, Al

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Al: I could live without Twitter, but journalists are experimenting with it, and I’m game to try, too. I don’t use it so that people can track my every move. Twitter has also been described as a “microblogging” service, and that’s how I’ve been using it. It’s also what characterizes the Twitter feeds that I like to read.It may die. Twitter is not nearly as compelling as the technologies we’re using every day. It’s one more damn thing to keep track of, too.I am still playing with the colors, as you’ve noticed. For a while I was concerned that it was looking too much like an American flag — not that there’s anything wrong with that! But maybe now that I’ve done some toning down, I could bring back red for that one tiny line.

  3. Ari Herzog

    The irony of Alex’ column is the Boston Globe’s website does not foster dialogue so it’s no wonder that he doesn’t see the value in conversing with other people.Twitter was founded and is promoted with the premise of sharing information with other people. Isn’t that the point of posting newspaper diatribes online? If he didn’t want people to know what he’s doing, why did he write a column about it?Isn’t communication, collaboration, and conversation a tenet on this blog, Dan?It’s no wonder Alex is jaded, for he references Twitter feeds that are broadcast channels, not multi-themed conversations. When I can tweet (the act of typing on Twitter is a tweet) with Congressmen John Culberson, Bob Latta, and George Miller in the same hour as Guy Kawasaki, Joshua Porter, and Chris Brogan, and countless others well-known and not known at all about topics we care about, how is that a “lapidary techno-haiku” in Alex’ words?I blogged yesterday about Barack Obama having 50,000 Twitter followers and Bob Barr with 400 followers, whereas John McCain didn’t even have a Twitter account. If Alex wants to stay in the dark, that’s fine by me, but it’s silly for a Globe lifestyle columnist to talk about something when all of his peers feel the opposite.


    I am a natural born skeptic, not given to glomming onto “the next big thing” cooked up by some starry-eyed web entrepreneur in his/her garage. But what was it that Zhou Enlai about the French Revolution? Too early to tell? I think its much too early for dead certain prognostications. But…Beam’s dismissal comes across as a tad creaky. Cross out “Twitter” and insert “weblog” and we could be back in the early ‘000s, replete with the same sclerotic signal to noise arguments. The same myopic fixation on individual trees at the expense of the vastness of the woods. Lara Fitton sums it up nicely for the defense: “The value of Twitter’s content is in context, conversations, relationships, shared information, collaboration and… (oy) so much more.” If all that is bit too touchy-feely consider these compelling examples of Twitter’s news-gathering utility.”Firsthand Reports From California Wildfires Pour Through TwitterCitizen media cover bridge collapseChicago Tribune Breaks News with Twitter PosseI am sure there are more.

  5. Howard Owens

    I had a similar experience when I spoke to a group of college students a few months ago. I mentioned twitter and they all looked at me blankly. I asked if any of them used it, and not a single hand went up.

  6. Al Toid

    Twitter also might be collapsing under the weight of it’s own success. A few months ago, before the track feature and IM features died, it was a lot more fun/interesting.(For those that don’t know, you could have twitter messages fed to your instant message client both messages from twitter friends, as well as the ability to track twitter messages on certain words or topics. Unfortunately, the increased load seems to have done in those services.)It’ll be interesting to see what it ends up being, but watching it, I’ve been enjoying seeing what’s happening with it: NPR’s Talk of the Nation taking comments from Twitter, Comedy Central’s Indecision 2008 coverage pushing out from twitter, various candidates using twitter as a way to broadcast information to the faithful, or web sites drawing readers in by sending out headlines/links to articles or news updates.When you get right down to it, much of this is the same that you’ve seen from RSS feeds but with a more interactive feel that I haven’t felt since my younger days on internet relay chat or the first IM clients talking to strangers.-JP

  7. David Appell

    Twitter is, IMO, pretty much exactly what is wrong with journalism: lack of depth, lack of concentration, lack of context. Journalists (and readers) need more uninterrupted time to read and think and contemplate and reflect, not be interrupted by inane messages every 60 seconds that communicate very little. Our lives are fragmented enough — why fragment them more?

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