This summer an editor asked me to report from a hippie music festival in Michigan exclusively through Twitter, the trendy microblogging site that lets users send 140-character messages to their 'êfollowers.'ê
For four days I roamed the festival grounds punching messages into a cell phone, reporting on the music, the art, the costumes, the smell (ooh, that smell!). Sample gems: 'êCampground porta-potties got tagged with graffiti - first real vandalism I've seen.'ê and 'êHeard about a guy who stuck cigarette butts in his ears, he wanted ear plugs so badly.'ê
While most festivalgoers enjoyed themselves, I was the dork with a tiny keypad. Which isn'êt so different than being the dork with a reporter'ês notebook, a role I'êm used to. In fact, it felt a lot like collecting notes for a story. Except that instead of sorting and sifting those notes, tossing out the crappy ones, I sent them out instantly to float around the internet in perpetuity.
Fortunately for me, they may not last forever. Valleywag reports that Twitter'ês got serious problems. The Gawker Media Network site critiques the both Twitter model and its business execution:
With no real hope of making money on its own, Twitter's best hope is a buyout. But its executives have handled that poorly, too. Dorsey botched talks with Yahoo and then Facebook; he didn't even tell his own board of directors he was talking to Facebook about a proposed $500 million acquisition. After that, he was fired as CEO and replaced by Williams, but stayed on as chairman, a nominal job which doesn't require his presence at the Twitter office. One prominent Silicon Valley investor is fuming that Dorsey is still on the payroll at all.
This Mickey Mouse operation is the future of news? That's not the most frightening prospect. Even if Twitter were competently run and profitable, the end result is an unreadable jumble. Look closely at the coverage, if you can call it that, of the Mumbai attacks on Twitter. Sitting at their desks in the U.S., most people had nothing to add except to observe that Mumbai used to be called Bombay 'ê the kind of message that makes you wish Twitter's length limit was zero characters, not 140.
I'êve got similar reservations about Twitter'ês journalistic value. The tool lends itself to flooding readers with the sort of information they need least: intensely frequent micronuggets, without any context. Then again, some say the same thing about blogs.