I’m about to do what I never thought I would do.
I have been an infrequent blogger over the last couple of years, writing irregularly and infrequently, sometimes for work and sometimes for fun. I have always harboured a dislike for blog posts which begin “Oh my dear readers, I am so so sorry for not having written more recently, but I’ve been so busy, etc. etc.” Who cares? If you have something to say, then say it. If you don’t, well fine – there really is no need apologise. There is plenty of other stuff out there to read.
But with several weeks since I last enjoyed the selfish buzz of expanding some thought or other on my blog, I have found a need to look at why I’ve not been writing as much recently. And I haven’t had to look very far.
The culprit? Twitter.
If you’ve not seen it or played with it, Twitter is one of the best toys on the internet, largely down to its sheer simplicity. In summary, imagine a text message, or a similar 140 character outburst, in response to the question “What are you doing?” Your answer, via web or text, gets distributed to anyone who has decided to ‘follow’ you. Correspondingly, you receive, through your gadget of choice, a series of so-called ‘tweets’ – the thoughts of your friends as a string of short messages scrolling through your awareness.
‘Microblogging’ is one term that’s been coined to describe what Twitter does. ‘Ambient intimacy’ were the words used by one of my friends to more accurately describe Twitter’s gift to the internet. With so many grown-up tasks occupying a day, it’s comforting to be exposed to the ups, downs and emotions of others you know. “Sitting on the beach watching seagulls”, “In need of a cup of tea and a coconut macaroon”, “Off to a meeting to learn more about a new project” or simply “Having a bad day” all represent the stuff of tweets.
When you’re feeling unmotivated, it can be great to receive a humorous tweet from someone having a better day. And when you’re on top form, it’s nice to share that with others, through the simple investment of 30 seconds of thumb-time.
Pre-Twitter, each time I had a thought, it would linger in my mind for a day or two before either fading away or providing the seed for a blog post. Now, I have no reason to wait – I just grab my phone and in the time it takes me to produce a text message, that thought is on the internet. It is on the screens of my followers, it is on sidebar of my blog and it is even fed directly into the status update on my wretched Facebook account. The current feed-based nature of the web helps content to spread quicker than ever before in a very focused way. This is both a strength and a weakness of my current fondness for Twitter. Great as it is for thoughts to just fly from one’s conciousness onto the internet, I sometimes wonder if something gets lost in the haste to tweet. Would an idea, more thoughtfully considered, become a more informed bit of writing if allowed to grow? Equally, would it be consigned to the bin where it may arguably belong?
To get the very best out of Twitter, you need the right equipment, set up the right way. That’s not to say it’s difficult to do, however. When I first dipped my toe into the world of Twitter, I was strictly a web-based tweeter. A look every so often at my Twitter homepage would show the thoughts and emotions of everyone on my list.
But taking the simple step of setting up Twitter on my phone has really started to show me what this is all about. As I grumpily wait for a train, I receive a tweet from someone recommending a new pub or reveling in a new recipe. Moreover, tweets often contain links to recommended places on the internet. This is where the benefits come in having a current web-enabled phone rather than the antique rubber Nokia with which I struggle along (to be fair, I am long overdue a phone upgrade, but I am equally put off by the dual prospects of either half an hour haggling with a call centre or being talked at in the flesh by an 18 year old with an excessively wide tie and a glut of product in his hair). My next phone will enable me to fully engage with this fun, following links and joining in as quickly as this stuff flows around the web.
So who uses Twitter? Well, as a newcomer myself, I can’t pretend to give an accurate picture, but I think it’s fair to say that it is largely the toy of those working in marketing, web stuff and ‘new media’ (I still dislike that term…). A quick look through my short list of followees reveals that I was drawn into this gentle addiction by a bunch focused largely around Brighton’s web marketing scene, chiefly at Nixon McInnes, an agency with whom I worked during my time as Neilson’s webmonkey.
I feel slightly as if I have gatecrashed a party. A party where everyone is discussing films, food, hangovers and other banter alongside their favourite database languages and jokes about obsolete code. But geeky though it may be, this is a party attended by warm, amusing folks who are very welcoming to an outsider such as me.
It’s nice to be party to the thoughts of this genuinely entertaining crowd, but if I’m honest, I wish Twitter would pick up a little more with the rest of the world; the rest of my world, at least. It would be great to trade moments of wisdom with fellow mountain bikers, to knock about ideas for a night out with my usual bunch of drinking buddies, or to keep up-to-date with the thoughts and work of the amateur photographers I have got to know through Flickr. To be fair, many of these folks must be using Twitter – maybe I just need to do a better job of finding them. Or persuading them.
Look at Facebook. A year or so ago this was a niche site with a word-of-mouth appeal. Then word got around and it’s now ubiquitous – some would say regrettably so. The genius of Twitter is that it is simpler, more adaptable and less of a chore to engage with. In fact, since I linked my Twitter account to my Facebook profile, I rarely bother to sign on to Facebook, happy in the knowledge that friends can follow my rambling momentary thoughts without me having to dodge the flying hordes of custard pies, vampires and other detritus which litter the site.
So there is my confession of the new love in my life – Twitter. But I realize that for all the benefits of this instant banter tool, I miss the enjoyment of knocking around a thought with a little more consideration, a little more editing and a little more time. So I’m back on the blog. After all, why say in 140 characters what you can say in 6,594?