Shouting things

I remember when blogging first captured the attention and imaginations of early adopters and online adventurers in the early part of this century, not long after the dot-com bubble burst.

It was a time of discovery, learning new things and being part of something that was a great equalizer. For the first time, the Average Joe and Joanna could very easily and quickly have an unfiltered open voice on topics that might show up in online search results alongside other reports, narratives and opinions, typically from the mainstream media and big organizations, and expose their thinking and ideas to others anywhere in the world.

Other people might leave comments on your blog and recommend your posts to their friends and colleagues. In turn, they might repeat it. Soon, you might have a network of trusted, like-minded people who you get to know over time, from whom you glean insights into things that matter to you, and enrich your own thinking and ideas. You may become known as a subject-matter expert. And you might even change your own thinking; certainly, you’d likely be influenced by different opinions just as yours might influence others’ opinions.

I was one of those early adopters and online adventurers, someone who would evangelise this brave new world, wanting everyone to be a blogger especially people in business. Break down the barriers, I’d cry! Demolish the silos! Give everyone a chance to share their voice!

We quickly got what we wished for, didn’t we?

That same early-adopter spirit came to Twitter when it started up in 2006, gathering huge momentum in early 2007 at the South by Southwest festival that year. Not for nothing was Twitter called a “microblogging service” in its early days, a moniker that persisted over the course of the following years.

Today, a decade on, my question is – what is Twitter?

Many people I know say it’s a place to chat, share opinion, engage in conversation, meet new people, be authentic and transparent (be you, in other words).  Some say it’s just a channel for others “to market at you.” And others see it only as a place where people shout about their own narrow interests, such as the cartoon clip above suggests in a benign example of that behaviour.

Twitter’s mission statement describes Twitter thus:

To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers

A good way of saying what Twitter lets you do instead of what Twitter (subjectively) is.

I answer the question as I have many times previously: Twitter is whatever you want it to be.

Today, that means it’s probably nothing like you thought it was when you signed up in 2006 (as I did) or during the following year or so. Of course, that depends on why you signed up (personal, political or business reasons) and how you use the service.

I’m not a great chatter on Twitter, using it primarily as a means of bookmarking things that interest me that I think might interest others. Yet I do chat at times especially with people who have added perspective or offer different views (now there’s subjective reasoning: like I said, Twitter is whatever you want it to be).

But a cartoon I saw in the Guardian got me thinking (hat tip to Scott Monty for sharing it in his Flipboard magazine this weekend).