Friday, January 14, 2011

"Twitter Users Are Smug"

The raucous two women that form the musical-comedy duo of Garfunkel and Oates have a snarkily culturally-incorrect song about the assumed superiority complex of pregnant women, "Pregnant Women Are Smug." I've been toying with revising the lyrics for power Twitter users, to reflect the sense of closed-circle smugness I've been sensing from power-tweeters of late.

Even though I'm a heavy Facebook user, I'm not trying to launch a new Microsoft/Apple-style culture war. Users of Facebook and LinkedIn rarely lead any passionate defense of their social networks. (Users of MySpace, meanwhile, remain on life support, heading to flatline, as the network laid off half its employees in mid-January.) After all, Facebook is the network with the CEO everyone loves to hate. Few get as worked up over Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone as they do about the junior svengali of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.

Nor do I have a serious problem with Twitter's notorious 140-character limit for posts, even if the striving for brevity usually leads to superficial thinking. This is the result of any social network designed first and foremost for a handheld smartphone (or even dumb phone) client. No, my main gripe is the benignly authoritarian network architecture of Twitter, and the way its single-direction, one-t0-many multipoint topology is ideally designed for celebrities and PR managers.

Asking followers to engage in layers of re-tweets while urging them to "join the discussion" would not be so annoying if passionate Twitter advocates were up front about the network's limitations. When I call Twitter authoritarian, we should look at the root of that word: authority. Twitter's hub-and-spoke is designed for followers to pay attention to the central authority figures gracing each sub-hub, and to mouth what the grand poobahs of Twitter have to say. Sure, Facebook has plenty of re-postings, people with 1000 friends, and recycled information, but it is designed with a more peer-to-peer infrastructure. If social networks were high schools, Facebook would be the unique environment in which jocks, freaks, goths, and nerds were all on equal planes, while Twitter would be one with a built-in reinforcement of cliques.

Stone and Dorsey are not responsible for the aura or arrogance that populates the network lately, nor are the early Twitter users who have become power-tweeters by default. Rather, we see a new breed of market analyst and journalist promoting others to join a discussion that rarely is as rich as one on Facebook or LinkedIn - and not because of the short tweets. When people complain of Twitter being a confusing cacophony of tweet, they could just as easily gripe about Facebook being a noisy party of pretty pictures and videos, signifying nothing. But many of the Twitter complainers seem to subconsciously understand that they are being fed one-way communications, as evidenced by Twitter's language of followers and followed. Commentators like Grayson Davis were recognizing this funny celebrity-driven atmosphere two years ago, but their critiques were misinterpreted as being directed to Twitter's superficiality. Let me re-state this clearly, I'm bothered by Twitter's fascist network architecture.

Mind you, I don't object when press colleagues at EE Times, EDN, and other engineering sites chide heads-down engineers to use more social networks, with an emphasis on Twitter. God knows such vertical network users could use any improvement in social skills, as could many scientific and academic sub-communities. No, what I find offensive are the media mavens on Twitter who have spoken out in recent weeks against tactics such as cross-posting, assuming that a savvy media user will be Twitter-centric by design. No, not unless one wants to emphasize PR or celebrity life. I'm not going to stop tweeting on occasion, but I will spend the bulk of my time on more egalitarian network architectures. And power-tweeters should understand that they are driving potential Twitter users away by assuming an air of superiority for a network that has some profound issues on how it defines a discussion.


G. Friday said...

There are rich discussions on LinkedIn? I've never seen one.

Loring Wirbel said...

You need to have slightly lunatic LinkedIn friends (Gary C. and his discussion of party canapes comes to mind) in order to pierce the evil corporate shell.