Saturday, March 7, 2009

To Tweet or Not to Tweet....

I love watching the usual crest-and-fall cycles of traditional media when it comes to technology. My favorite news show, Morning Joe, did a segment on Twitter, highlighting how everyone else in traditional media has done a segment on Twitter (talk about the Echo Chamber!). I know, it's on MSNBC, but before you conservatives flog me, read RSM's post here.

Willie Geist and Dennis Kneale riff on what Twitter is and isn't. They, like most folks in news media ask the same three questions that, while important to those who make their living in the news industry, don't really matter to the non-news folks who use these tools to such personal advantage.

1) Is it just a fad?

2) How can we make money off of it like it was traditional media?

3) Where do people find the time to play with this stuff?

Then today, Mika Brzezinski tweeted:
Says twittering is thew epitome of narcissism. I think he may be right. Thinking of stopping...

Except that I noticed that 90% of her tweets are short links to great opinion pieces or news stories, and very little referencing herself. Like most of us on twitter, Ms. Brzezinski's first instinct is to share, and occasionally offer comment for context. I can't see how, when she freely promotes the worthy works of others, it can be considered "narcissism".

Traditional media has two major functions. The main function is to distribute news. This model has been under assault since the early days of the Web. Printing presses, spitting out yesterday's news, stacked into trucks, and spit onto our doorsteps, can't compete with the immediacy of the Internet. But the other function of traditional media is only just now coming under assault from the frequently referenced "Web 2.0" technologies like Twitter (and Digg, and Delicious, and Facebook, etc.). The second function of traditional media isn't the distribution of news, but the selection of news and commentary by trusted sources. Traditionally, these trusted sources have been newspaper editors, evening news anchors, and reporters on the street who focused on the lowest common denominator to reach the widest possible audience in a broadcast media. In the age of Social Media on the Internet, however, these trusted sources are now Legion. We select them for ourselves. Some of us still trust the New York Times and broadcast TV's evening news. Some of us only trust our friends. Thanks to the Internet, these voices we trust can come to us through the same channels.

But even in traditional media, there has been an explosion of voices that we may decide to trust thanks to cable news channels and talk radio. Anderson Cooper or Lou Dobbs? Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow? Joe Scarborough or Keith Olbermann? (okay, that last one is rhetorical.)

One of those many voices I have chosen to rely on to direct me to relevant and compelling news and opinion (even when I fervently disagree with it!) is Mika Brzezinksi. While I catch a good amount of Morning Joe each weekday, nothing compares to the ability to sit down in the evening and review the articles and commentary that the sources I have chosen to trust, Ms. Brzezinski amongst them, have willingly and freely shared with me.

For many, Twitter is about narcissism. The same can be said about all social media. But these people will find few followers. As of this posting, there are 3,972 followers of Ms. Brzezinski on Twitter. 3,972 people who have decided that her opinion matters to them. 3,927 people who ask her to help them navigate the sea of information. Helping those people may be personally gratifying to her, but I don't see it as "narcissistic". I see it as philanthropic.


  1. Hey Eric,

    Nice post. I will be following Mika Brzezinksi to see what she is all about. Keep the posts coming!


  2. For me, twitter isn't really about news. (I have lots of other places I get news.) It's about news only as that news relates to the all-day conference/cocktail party we're having about vital issues in museum/public history professional practice. I am way bored with news stories about how twitter (and the "statusphere" in general) is about navel-gazing.

  3. Great post Eric. You can fall into the trap of posting useless info but for me the Twitter timeline is a great way to keep up with friends and my own random life events. It is a also a great tool to post random discoveries or news from the internet for others to see.

    I follow several people in the tech industry to keep up with new products, shows, and info. It seems that Twitter is one of those things that people either get or don't. Ultimately it is up to the user(s) to decide the content and just like, it will take different shapes as it evolves.

    IMO, this is not a technology that is going to disappear any time soon.