It's ironic that so many words are being written about a Web 2.0 app that restricts participants' output to only 140 characters. Perhaps even more ironic, this article was born from a lone remark about 'twattering' on Twitter that grew into a 10,000-word group discussion (not on Twitter!), which I've mashed up and summarised herein.
In the red corner, we have the nay-sayers, despairing that Twitter is simply the latest blot on the cultural landscape, adding to the ever-increasing effluence of banality being spewed out as the blind lead the blind like lemmings to the end of days. As eloquently put by IT philosopher Jeremy Pettitt:
'Didn't Nietzsche say, 'Soon everyone will learn to read and write, and that will be the death of language'? Brilliantly offensive. I'm sure he had Twitter in mind. The morbidly self-obsessed screeching to the morbidly self-obsessed in bite-sized chunks.'
'More is less' can be seen as the inevitable consequence of there being no barrier to entry on Twitter, as with any tool that democratises opinion.
Obviously, this is not an argument being made by social media evangelists, or by anyone who has something to gain from Twitter cheerleading.
However, supporters in the blue corner, such as marketer Eric Weaver, don't deny that Twitter 'enables the egotistical to broadcast their dysfunction and self-interest.' Instead, he points out that Twitter is only a tool and therefore to 'obsess over its value is to blow its significance out of proportion.' Internet marketing executive Jeff Weitzman explains, 'It's hard to be for or against something that isn't anything until it's used by someone in a worthwhile or worthless way.' For example, 'I'm not for or against hammers. I'm all for using hammers to build things. I'm against hitting unsuspecting strangers with a hammer.'
So for Jeff, Twittering 'can be inspired' because 'brevity can often bring clarity.' Then again it 'can also be banal because you can't often say anything truly interesting in 140 characters.' He accepts that it's the latter outcome that's driving quantity over quality and fuelling criticism of Twitter, or at least the Twitterverse:
'Increasing your followers is the goal; upping your ranking and earning a place among the Twitterati, the holy grail.'
Perhaps, as media experimenter Brian Clark points out, 'it's too early to be throwing the baby out with bathwater.' Twitter's ultimate utility may only just be emerging, and may not be as originally intended. Advocates point towards both its 'real-time collaboration' possibilities and its role in 'discovery', citing examples such as how following Lance Armstrong on Twitter during a cycling tour can provide insights that can't be delivered by the ubiquitous TV coverage.
Not having had any moment of Twittering epiphany, I remain yet to be convinced about the value of using Twitter, and I freely admit to having no editorial impartiality here, having not only instigated the 'twattering' discussion, but also actively participated in it.
What I've learned is that social media tools can provide a thoroughly enjoyable alternative entertainment experience (keeping me pleasantly occupied while Rome burns?). Interacting with others in real time, if not face to face, beats sitting at home passively watching TV, or going to the theatre and wondering if I'm the only one there not getting the Pinter play. So I'm very grateful to everyone who participated in the Facebook group 'Debatable' that was formed off the back of my flippant remark on Twitter. The conversation was both fun and mentally simulating, even though it was not the first discussion about the point of Twitter and its ilk, nor likely to be the last.
What remains to be seen is if Twitter can develop and sustain value that it currently doesn't appear to have. It needs to make a significant number of people want to use it long-term. And it needs a solid revenue model to avoid becoming the next lame duck of the social networking world.