Mainstreaming the Tweeters

Peter JonesInformation Ecology, Wu Wei

The New York Times started tracking Twitter news activity last year, but typically with tongue-in-cheek articles, such as the insets about celebrity Twitterers (that were in the print Times only!)  Now the papers may be getting concerned that their original core value – editing and producing the news – may be getting twittered away.

In Twitter’s secret: The law of unintended consequences:

“News no longer breaks, it tweets,” blogged Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley-based technology forecaster, last November during the Mumbai attacks. “If newspapers are the first draft of history, then blogs are the scratch pad. And in front of blogs are tweets,” he added in a phone interview last week.

Twitter is a classic example of the “law of unintended consequences,” says Matthew Fraser, who tracks the world of online social networking. At first, he says, people shared the “micro-banalities of life” such as “I’m at McDonald’s having a Big Mac.”

But now, the 80+ people I follow are inviting me to events, coordinating travel, lunch, and huge fundraisers, and are sending me links to things I actually am interested in. Almost everyone that I know using Twitter (and I only have about 120 followers so please add me to your list) said they started off this way – the concept was too trivial to take seriously.  I also thought so – who cares about “what are you doing right now?” Nobody, really.

But once people get started and reciprocate with friends and colleagues, then strangers, a virtuous cycle of relationships takes shape. You never think about the Twitter prompt question again – but intuitively it has transformed into something more profound, something like:

What can you contribute to your online community right now?