March 19, 2009
The Life of a Tweet
Twitter (and the ISchool -- or one of my poor brethern -- I have a masters from UCBerkeley's iSchool) seem to be in the tweetsphere over one ill-found tweet tossed off by a student and found by her summer internship employer likely via search.twitter.com. For background, you can see this: FattyCisco.com. The poor girl is likely humiliated and horrified over what she thought was an innocent and also, likely, a fleeting thought that didn't really reflect how she felt overall.
We've all had those momentary thoughts where when we are ambivalent, we toss something out of our mouths and once it's out there, we think, wow, that doesn't even ring true or, it did for a nanosecond, and now it's changed, or gee, that's about 5% of the way I actually feel about this. But out of mouth, truly ephemeral (unless recorded in some form) is different than written down and searchable in the grand database of the Googlezon and search at twitter. Or maybe it's just a joke.
This is one of the problems with online communities and specifically twitter:
You don't know who's listening, and because of search tools, you are findable beyond your follower list
or your "community" of known tweeters (ppl you @ with or read) unless your account is private.
I don't think we have at all sussed out what it means to tweet in the long term, or what the power of the tweet is, or where the tweet goes and what sort of life it has beyond the first few minutes or hours of it's life in the Twitter / client context.
This is another example of something that happened recently:
A PR exec going to Memphis to meet with a client, Fed Ex, insulted the client on the way to the meeting. The clients wrote a letter to the PR company and him, his bosses, and cc'd everyone at Fed Ex as well. Ooops.
The problem is, tweets go to those paying attention at the moment, those who may save tweets in clients (i leave my twitter client open and check it now and then as I have time -- right now I have 15k tweets from the past couple of days), those pivoting on a single user, those searching for key words, those looking a related conversations.
But when you tweet, in your head, you're often just thinking about those you expect to read it, like only a few your followers paying attention at the time. What happens with some tweets (some reading by some followers) is not what can happen with all tweets.
The interface and interaction at Twitter's website doesn't lead you to believe that what happens most often there will happen in incendiary examples. And different twitter clients (an android or Iphone app for example) don't lead you to understand the permanent nature of tweets, through use, that say, search.twitter.com might, as you see something you deleted appear there anyway.
It takes experience with all these different modalities to inform you because there is no advance disclosure or warning of the elasticity of a single tweet.
What is most interesting is this pushes me to think harder about what the interface of "aged information" online looks like (and I don't mean google search results that move from page 1 to page 3 over time).
And I have to ask myself what it would mean to have what Judith Donath discussed on the panel, Is Privacy Dead or Just Very Confused, moderated Saturday at SXSW by danah boyd. Judith discussed having some kind of a "mirror" for you of your digital self that would reflect all your online presentation and communications and expression... just so you might get a sense of what you show people and what you project at a moment in time. Right now it's really hard to gather that sense of yourself. Right now, you don't really see it in any sort of complete way. But others see pieces of you digitally represented at different times. It would be like re-disclosing for yourself what you've done, discovering how others view you, in slices or on the whole, in order to see the effect you have. It would probably be helpful to know what had reach and where, and what was for now at least, forgotten.
But frankly, the privacy implications of that are huge as well. So, I'm thinking. No answers on that one yet.