I’ve never been a huge fan of Twitter and as such, I don’t think too much about it. Although this entire morning I’ve run into several articles talking about it. One of the major reasons I don’t like Twitter is that it’s not deep. I like reading something that gives me context, something to mull over, thoughts to consider, links to other content and more. Twitter is less. And rightfully so, that’s the purpose of it.
Nevertheless, this article mentions Twitter and uses it as a comparison to blogging to see how social networking enacts power laws. It’s interesting, because it grabs everything under the Web 2.0 umbrella and while that’s maybe useful for an overview, it does a disservice to the entire thing. Web 2.0, like every complex structure is made up of differing parts, many times operating with different objectives, if any at all. I don’t think Twitter works like blogs at all (certainly they can, but for the most part don’t) and I don’t believe that social power structures in each system work the same.
The value of being followed is important, yes. It doesn’t mean that communication is enacted. I could be followed by several thousand others, it doesn’t mean that what I’m saying is understood or even further something that anyone would act upon. That requires real power. So when @BarackObama is followed by a hundred thousand…. that’s power and the cult of celebrity – would hundred thousand follow his blog? Or would a million watch his vlog? Oh wait, maybe they will – it’s called the State of The Nation address… Sure Web 2.0 has created it’s own celebrities, who in turn have influence and power, but really we’re not changing the power structure at all. While social networking is allowing people to connect more freely, real power acts as it has done for hundreds of years.
Clay Shirkey’s article about Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality talks about this, especially well summed up in the concluding statements:
In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)
I see the value of Twitter as a method to deal with quick messages (the idea that a language teacher could use twitter to provide new vocabulary each day that student could subscribe to is interesting), I don’t see the power laws enacted with it. Perhaps that’s because the power of Twitter is in the instantaneous nature of it, the connection is gone in a second… the lasting impression is not always long lasting.