Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of Time and Twitter

Overnight the Scotland media industry site allmediascotland announced that a local journalist has set up the world’s first Twitter newspaper. The idea of the "All Tweet Journal" is that a collection of tweets will be published as a PDF file with a newspaper feel. It will be an online twitter newspaper where the editor will publish the best of the tweets he receives. The plan is to bring out the newspaper once a week but it could expand to a daily publication.

This curious mix of old and new technology is the brainchild of James McIvor. McIvor is a former chief sub-editor of the Scottish Sun who operating as Scooped has produced spoof newspaper front pages as novelty gifts. He has also been a Twitter user for over a year. His new “all tweet journal” will initially follow the Scooped model be a one page “splash” of whatever news he can glean from the Twitterverse. His hope is that it will attract enough eyeballs to get the attention of advertisers. His first edition (pdf) released yesterday had a trashy tabloid look that shows McIver’s Scottish Sun background. However the idea is promising if only visitors can be bothered to wait around until Adobe loads up.

Whether they wait or not is a matter of time. Speed is of the essence in Twitter. Its growing popularity is in many ways a product of its almost instantaneous ability to get the news out. Though it may unleash complex viral actions, Twitter itself is deceptively simple. You have 140 characters or less to say something. The idea is that your friends or admirers will sign up to receive your Twitter updates and they can tweet back to you. Twitter is erroneously called micro-blogging but it communication patterns are far more erratic than the traditional blog with its header-post-comment format. Twitter has a flatter structure that allows for quicker and more anarchic feedback. Today's called Twitter users “all little birds in the same tree of ‘real-time status communication’”.

Australian media writer and Twitterer Stilgherrian prefers to use imagery of fins rather than feathers. As he put it “the Twitter-river flows on 24/7 but you don’t stop to watch every fish”. His profile soared after named him in a list of ten of Australia’s most interesting Twitter users earlier this week. The article was tongue-in-cheek aimed at sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Stilgherrian himself is a withering judge of chaff: he gives potential followees just three to five seconds to prove themselves worthy of watching.

His strategy shows exactly how time sensitive Twitter is. But his list of what factors he considers in those five seconds is also impressive. Alice Rawsthorn says this is because we’ve become more efficient at navigating the daily blizzard of information. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, she says we do this by ignoring “flotsam” to make sense out of the things that matter. The age of the Internet has honed our skills in piecing puzzles of information together. In other words she says, “we've trained ourselves to synthesise”. Rawsthorn (whose article also contains an intriguing method of differentiating those under 30 from those over) listed Twitter among the vast array of tools we’ve become comfortable with in the digital age. She notes that there are more technological innovations in our lives than at any other period of history and we keep increasing them at astonishing speed.

Twitter is growing faster than most. Founded in mid 2006, Time magazine was reporting 100,000 users by March the following year. By September 2008, there were five million. It is likely that number has since increased dramatically given the high profile publicity Twitter has had since then. There was the climax to Obama’s online campaign which was followed by the plane crash twitterer, and the plane landing twitterer. Then both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the Gaza war took to the tweets. Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson says the site is attracting 10,000 new users every day which would suggest there are now over six million users. Yesterday Forbes pushed it on further with its list of top Twitter celebrities “taking over the web, 140 characters at a time.”

Twitter may or may not be taking over the web, but the company’s accelerated growth has made it an attractive takeover prospect. In November, the three owners Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams turned down a $500 million, mostly paper-based, offer from Facebook. This seemed an outlandish amount for site which has no subscriptions or advertising. This week the owners settled for a more modest valuation of $250 million signing a term sheet (letter of intent) with an unnamed venture fund.

This valuation will difficult to judge as Twitter is morphing into new uses almost by the hour. It is attracting the serious interest of journalists both internationally and locally. The product is attracting a bewildering array of tools, widgets, and user interfaces. It seems highly likely given the speed of technological development and commercial intent, Twitter will look radically different by the time it becomes endemic. And given a faster adobe interface, then perhaps the all tweet journal may be onto something.


Ann oDyne said...

when there is Twitter from outer space we will be talking with some very interesting twits

2. those canny Scots.

3. "trashy Page 1" -
I'll pay Wossy
(hus twitter name)
but Stephen Fry ?
bless his iHeart.

Ann oDyne said...

and of course the heat caused me to typo 'hus' for 'his' ...

"Twitter Tips for Jonathan Ross (and others) « PR and the Social Web
Wossy as he calls himself on Twitter is not the first celebrity to use Twitter. Stephen Fry has amassed an army of almost forty thousand followers. ...Wossy on Twitter