The birth of every every new communications medium is followed by a period during which the underlying technology actually cramps the communication it’s supposed to be enabling. When it comes to Twitter, we’re all in the middle of this period – Gartner would probably call it the Trough of Technobabble – right now.
A Twitter tweet was meant to be a pure distillation of a thought. After all, with only 140 characters available, there’s not a lot of room for waffle. Even one of the world’s briefest, most elegant speeches, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, would take 11 tweets to get across. I counted. (Of course, before Abe could rattle off all eleven, he’d have been interrupted by umpteen numpties sharing insights such as “Had coffee this morning. Good 2 B alive.” or “Anybody else find these confederate uniforms chafing?”).
Back to the Trough of Technobabble. Look what happens when a simple tweet gets passed through the Twitter machine:
The tweet has a simple message: check out our recent blog post on The 16 Ways to Alienate a B2B Buyer. Already, it’s got a fugly URL attached that will look hilariously retro in about five years. Then there’s the arguably valuable Twitterchrome: who posted it, the photo, date, time and origination app.
Now the Tweet gets picked up by one of my “Followers” (I prefer ‘disciple’ but will go with the flow on this one) and becomes:
Already, the short, simple tweet has begun its transformation into what I call Twitterjunk. No offense to ‘rapril’ who was just doing what we all do, but look how much harder this version is to read than the original. We’ve got two hashtags, attached like barnacles to the hull of my message. We’ve got the RT @dougkessler prefix (a nice piece of Twitter etiquette that inhibits outright plagiarism but also kills your opener). Then we’ve got rapril’s editoral comment (now constrained to ten characters): ‘Liked this’. (thanks rap).
Glance at this tweet and already your eye is like a hummingbird looking for a place to land in a thatch of brambles on a windy day. If your eye is like most hummingbirds faced with this problem, it will flit away in the time it takes a hummingbird heart to beat, say, a few thousands times.
But it gets worse:
Now peterww has picked up the scent (thanks, peteww, I think I’ll dub ya dubdubya). And we’ve got another RT prefix (Twitter etiquette kind of breaks down here… what the hell did CopywriterTO do to deserve top billing?); followed by the fugly URL, a hashtag and a double RT for flavour (cattily quoting both accounts I posted from, thereby exposing me as a twitter whore (twhore?). Bitch.). Plus the twitterchrome and photo (dubdubya’s nine-pixel dog. Spaniel? Schnauzer?).
So okay, this is only two generations into our game of Chinese Twispers and already we’ve turned a simple thought into something you’d expect to find lying around under an Enigma machine or a pillow in Bill Gates’s shag-pad.
I mean really. Just look at it.
Now compound all this with the fact that no one is looking at a tweet like this in isolation. We’re all seeing it as one of about 120 tweets pouring through an app like TweetDeck, the multi-column mega-stream for omni-taskers with ADD.
So we’re now confronted with a whole frigging dashboard of this kind of gobbledy-gook.
The only tweet immune from this accretion of twitterjunk is the tweet that everyone ignores (“Hello world, have a fabtabulous Tuesday!!! #manicamericanoptimist”). So a simple bit of shameless pimping like this:
Quickly turns into a wingding-tangle like this:
Again, no offense at all to “follow_bizo” (be honest, fb, how long did you take coming up with a twitter name?), but just LOOK at that. It looks like what a cartoon cat says when it gets hit by a falling anvil. I mean, I really appreciate being re-tweeted. In fact it validates not only the hours pissed away (I mean invested) researching (I mean procrastinating via) social media; it also validates my very existence. So please, reader, do not take this as a plea to leave my tweets un-retweeted. That would be a fate worse than becoming a colonic irrigationist or ‘personal brand coach’.
All I’m pointing out here, to the curiously sad reader or two who are still with me, is that all new communications media tend to go through this phase of tech-trumps-talk and that we’re in that phase now with Twitter and that I don’t like it much but find it fascinating. You?