Morning Must-Read: Ezra Klein: Baker's Dozen Sample of Weblogs
Noted for Your Evening Procrastination for February 1, 2015

What Twitter Can and Cannot Be Used For...

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Over on Twitter: Reflections in Tweets on Ezra Klein: What Andrew Sullivan's exit says about the future of blogging--an attempt to use Twitter to show how and why Twitter can and cannot be used for the conversational dialogue rather than the social-viral web.

Aggregated below the fold:

Let’s quote from @ezraklein!

Most conversation now seems to have moved to Twitter. There are advantages to this: it's faster and it's open to more people. Blogs were democratizing, and Twitter is even more democratizing. You don't have to start up your own blog and build up a readership to be heard. All you have to do is have a few followers and get rewteeted a bit.

Needless to say, however, there are disadvantages too. Twitter is often too fast, and when you combine that with its 140-character limit, you end up with a lot of shrill and indignant replies. Sometimes this is deliberate: it's what the tweeter really wants to say. But often it's not. There's a premium on responding quickly.... In addition, it's simply very difficult to convey nuance and tone in 140 characters. Even if you don't mean to sound shrill and outraged, you often do. Now multiply that by the sheer size of Twitter, where a few initial irate comments can feed hundreds of others within minutes, and you have less a conversation than you do a mindless pile-on....

Personally, I miss old-school blogging and the conversations it started. But I also recognize that what I'm saying about Twitter is very much what traditional print journalists said about blogging back in the day. You have to respond within a day! You have to make your point in 500 words or less! Whatever happened to deeply considered long-form pieces that took weeks to compose and ran several thousand words? Sure, those conversations took months to unfold, but what's the rush?....

When I respond to something, I usually want to make a serious point, and Twitter makes that awfully hard. Writing a coherent multi-part tweet is just way harder than simply writing a 500-word blog post. On the other hand, the tweet will get seen by far more people than the post and be far more timely. As with everything, it's a tradeoff. I miss old-school blogging. A lot of people say good riddance to it. And the world moves on.

That is the end of the long, extended quote from Ezra Klein’s What do we think of this? Me, 3 things:

  1. Ezra gets, I think, the center-of-gravity of the decade-ago complaints about the internet wrong. The complaints were not about pace and length, at bottom, but simply that the wrong people were getting to speak. There is some of that in the complaints against Twitter (cf. @jonathanchait, passim), but the main anxiety induced by the rise of Twitter is, I think, the issue of bandwidth.

  2. Twitter does not like tools that make it possible to read Twitter content in a way that does not enslave your eyeballs to Twitter ads, so such tools do not exist--and that is the key reason that extended and sophisticated discussions cannot be carried out via Twitter.

  3. 140 characters forces the elimination of social nuance from every single point. A twitter that allowed us, say, 300 characters instead would be much less toxic—it would allow us to say “the usually-reliable @ezraklein has gotten this one wrong…” or “I think the intelligent @ezraklein has overlooked…” but in 140 characters those social nuances consume all of the bandwidth.

This third problem would, I think, be eliminated if Twitter simply went up to 300 characters--or if we moved by default to screencapped paragraphs as the default Twitter element, with the 140 characters reserved for @addressees and #hashtags.

The second problem is, however, not solvable: any schema flexible enough to allow useful aggregation of Twitter tweets into longer-form discussions is also flexible enough to strip out the ads that Twitter thinks are its lifeblood, and so cannot be solved except by a replacement of Twitter.

And, as I said, the first problem is not a problem: it is simply people who thought they had paid their dues and gotten authority to speak a sad because other people are speaking too. Consider @HannaRosin’s complaint to @jonathanchait—it was not that the #RIPpatriarchy was any more simplistic than her “The Patriarchy Is Dead. Feminists, accept it” headline—it was that the wrong people were speaking.

And to the extent that you generalize the problem to people being wrong on the internet, the root problem is not “internet” but “wrong”. No medium of expression is going to resolve that.

So is there a solution? Or an approximation of a solution? I keep on thinking that it has to be “stackable content”: every argument at every length—headline, tweet, Facebook paragraph, 500-word blogpost, 2000-word extended useful discussion, 10000 word longform. And whoever first figures out how to publish effectively at all those lengths in a way that encourages amplification and engagement will win the internet for all time…