If the equivalent of an essay in the Google age is the blog, what then is the tweet?
A tweet is a part of the tidal wave of human twittering, but as such, runs a close risk of becoming an overwhelming flood-tide of twaddle. If new media is anything like old media, the generic will always float to the top as it has with TV. We have to dig down deep and arm ourselves with the right tools if we are to find our nuggets of relevant information.
The growth of twittering has been remarkable as shown below;
Just assume that over the next few years, as the web continues its stratospheric growth, more and more people will be texting and tweeting over their mobile phones. How are we to deal with the sheer volume of information that is being constantly generated onto the web? How do we turn off all the noise it creates, reduce the addiction to all the RSS feeds, blogs and tweets we read everyday? And the compulsion to communicate with friends and family or colleagues on social sites like Facebook or Linked In?
Mitch Joel, who writes a blog on Digital media, makes a very wise suggestion; forget the noise, turn it off, retreat, and become more selective about how we use the information available to us. He suggests making more use of filters and search engines to weed out what adds value to us personally or professionally. But no search engine or other web tool can do this better than us as readers. In other words, we need to become better editors. Use the available technology tools but use value as our yardstick. For those who produce content, he recommends reflecting more on the value that content generates to its audience rather than on just putting out some noise.
Good advice, but such is the diversity of users that one person’s noise will be another person’s object of value.
In the same way, tweets are just noise, 140-character bits of information that get tossed out as invitations to dialogue as support (or not) for on-going dialogues, as challenges, or markers, or simply to express one’s status or location. On the other hand, a gathering of like minded twitterers will swell into a cloud of followers all swarming over some topic or other.
So if the essay is a blog, I would define the tweet as a kind of digital hieroglyph, carving some kind of mark out of the digital landscape. It acquires value through the sheer volume of followers and re-tweeters, its relevance to the times, and ultimately, by how long it remains alive and twittering on the web.