Twitter – why?

Twitter describes itself thus:-

“Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

Twitter also says:-

* Eating soup? Research shows that moms want to know. Really? Just who are these mothers with a worrying obsession about my soup (and anyway, right now it’s a meat pie!)?
* Running late to a meeting? Your co-workers might find that useful. Indeed – and I could simply text or phone one person and ask for the message to be passed on.
* Partying? Your friends may want to join you. Quite. But what’s wrong with the phone, text or email? Or even IM?

Call me picky, but telephones, mobes and text – not to mention email and IM – can do anything Twitter can do, and with a great deal more privacy. So what’s the point of Twitter? And really, who gives a shit about what anyone is doing at every minute of every day? Get a life, people!

Someone called Nicholas Carr (an author and technologist, apparently), is quoted on Twitter as saying “Twitter is the telegraph system of Web 2.0.”  Yes, indeed, but telling me that Twitter is as good as a long-obsolete technology, done in by radio and the telephone, is a bit like telling me my new car is every bit as good as the Stanley Steamer! It fails, utterly, to impress me.

Yes, I do know that the uptake of Twitter has been huge, but you could say the same for the Black Death, and both world wars – we didn’t need them either.

Recently, a guy at the Guardian went to Paris, guided entirely by advice gleaned, in real time, from other people on Twitter.  Boy, was he geekily proud of himself. Sadly, the experience of Paris wasn’t the one he’d have had if he’d had the initiative to do a little research and planning before-hand. What he got was the partial experiences of umpteen other people foisted upon him. Which struck me as just a little pointless – like Twitter itself. (And none of the Twits told him where he might get laid – which says a lot…)

And now the government is about to spy on Twitter to see if Islamic terrorists are using it to communicate. This assumes that as well as being murderous assholes, they are also morons, which is pretty unlikely (OK – given the virgins these psychos are expecting in the afterlife – man, are they in for a surprise – maybe they are a tad moronic). But come on, what sort of useful communication can you have when you’re limited to a few handfuls of characters?

As any fool, even a terrorist, knows, the easiest way to avoid eavesdroppers is to use unregistered pay-as-you-go mobile phones (in the US they call these disposable cell-phones burn phones, somewhat mysteriously), bought with cash and fuelled with vouchers, also bought with cash, or with the provided swipe card, again, using cash – no paper-trail or online records. Perhaps this loophole needs closing by having phone sales registered, as with TVs here in the UK? And as fans of the Sopranos will know, the mob routinely nips out to use pay-phones when they want to avoid eavesdroppers, which I find endearingly quaint and just a tad dumb. Wouldn’t translate to this side of the Atlantic too well – try finding a pay-phone that works for a start.

So no, I don’t think the government’s snoops will find anything worthwhile on Twitter, just vast amounts of inane and pointless babble. That’s not to say they should be allowed to spy on it, not without a fight, because this is just the thin end of a very large wedge. There are already plans for them (government spooks) to store information about every telephone call, text, email and internet visit made by anyone in the UK on a central database (and I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t an ongoing keyword scan of the blogosphere already in place). Where the hell is the uproar about that, because I’ve sure as hell not seen much in the press as a whole?

Hey – maybe it’s on Twitter!

Addendum – WordPress has just announced a new Bring Twitter to Your Blog app – oh, the irony!

Update: That was then – now you’ll find me on Twitter up to 16 hours a day. I stand by much of what I wrote here, though, as Twitter was still looking for its niche, which it’s now found in politics and in faster news dissemination than newspapers and some dedicated news channels can manage. It’s in danger of losing its way, though, as it increasingly subdivides and becomes more specialised – routine discourse is drowned out by the sound of so many minority – and extremely obscure – axes being ground.