Interesting points from Bill. We should neither overestimate nor underestimate the power of new tools online. We have to match online tools with offline goals in order for political entrepreneurship to continue to grow on the Right. -Matt Moon
I've noticed a trend over the past few weeks, roughly concurrent with the Twitter-reinforced Tea Party movement, which is a tendency on the Left to dismiss Twitter both for its apparent limitations as well as its embrace by the political Right. Not only do I think they are making a mistake, but the explanation in part illuminates why Twitter is becoming ever more important to online communication.
To begin, here's erstwhile conservative John Cole making the former point:
Here is what I don’t understand about twitter. When blogs came out and started to rise in popularity, lots of folks in the MSM and elsewhere said “Great. Just what we need. The undigested, unedited thoughts of the rabble.” If blogs are the undigested thoughts, tweets are the orts.
Here's Bloggingheads regular commenter B.J. Keefe, responding to new host Matt Lewis' point -- via my post here -- that the Right is succeeding on Twitter:
Is this anything worth bragging about? What does it even mean, that there are more Republicans spewing out sound bites and ill-considered thoughtlets? ... [G]iven the choice to "dominate" on Twitter compared to, say, the blogosphere, let alone actually getting people off their couches to go knock on doors, I know which one I'd pick.
Even as Markos Moulitsas has recently taken to Twitter, at least one Daily Kos community member decided to hoax the TCOT list about the contents of the stimulus bill -- "$2 million for Shamwows" -- and with some success, too. (On the other hand, this guy makes a good point.) And here is Gavin M. from Sadly, No!:
Twitter is that new thing that’s like burping the alphabet. Republicans are big on it because they have nothing to say.
He is being glib (what? impossible) but this is a trend, all right. What's driving this attitude? We can't ignore sour grapes -- for the first time in a while, the Right is being recognized as doing something online better than the Left. It only makes sense the Left would want to minimize that, both to reassure themselves, discourage the Right and encourage skepticism among outside observers.
It's absolutely true that, by itself, Twitter is a stunted communication tool. The brevity allows for faster communication, which also means less context and a greater likelihood of jumping to conclusions. Then again, the value of each individual tweet is infinitessimal and easily countered (the so-called "self-correcting blogosphere" in fact wasn't, but the Twitterverse may be different).
Of course, there is a lot more to Twitter than 140 characters, thanks to its API and developer community. For those who may have not been following it closely, Twitpic lets you share pictures. Power Twitter embeds those photos (and links to YouTube) on the page. Utterli lets you post audio. Services like Bit.ly make it easy to track clicks on links you post. Both Farhad Manjoo and David Weinberger have recently explained how Twitter users have compensated for its limitations.
Twitter's homepage famously asks "What are you doing?" but, famously as well I think, the vast majority of Twitter users ignore this question and say whatever they think needs to be said. Twitter is what you make of it.