Theory: Twitter is More Likely to Be Meaningful Than TV

Over the last two weeks I’ve interviewed people from 32 different companies working on building, leveraging or otherwise engaging with what’s called The Real-Time Web. It’s preparation for ReadWriteWeb’s forthcoming Real-Time Web Summit (I hope you’ll come) and a research report on the same topic.

Believe it or not, Twitter is not the primary topic of all these conversations (thank goodness) but it does come up a lot both literally and as a metaphor. Many of the conversations aren’t even about social networking, but many of them are. User experience and the streams through which real-time data often gets delivered are things I’ve been talking with people about a lot.

In one of those conversations, Kevin Marks (formerly of Technorati and Google, now at British Telecom) told me the following: he believes that Twitter is more likely to be interesting than television because we opt-in to particular streams of other peoples’ updates that we find interesting. That creates a positive feedback loop that encourages us to contribute something interesting in return and thus the ecosystem trends towards higher quality content. Do you agree with that?

Marks also said this was an advantage that Twitter and other opt-in subscription-stream formats have over things like YouTube comments. What of the “I don’t care what you ate for breakfast” critique of Twitter? Marks says that’s just people who have an antiquated view of what belongs “in public,” based on a time when content had to go through expensive publishing processes before being broadcast to the public and thus had to be unusually important to be worth it.

This is just one of several user experience related conversations I’ve been having about real-time streams, but I found it quite interesting. I like this theory. I’m not sure whether I agree with it or not (Kevin, let me know if I’ve mischaracterized what you meant) but I’d really like to know what others think.

  • Couldn’t agree more IF (big if) you could define “more meaningful” or “more interesting” to make it measurable and comparable. Short of that, my subjective reality is: Yes, mostly. Just by the time I spend in interested anticipation on either media. Reason: Twitter is two-way, more focused and I know some of the program producers in person. Trust and time-savings.

  • rick

    Well the “what I had for breakfast” tweets are uninteresting and junk not because of the production costs and time, but because they provide nothing to the reader. The beauty of Twitter is that if someone does that too much you can simply unfollow them (or in some clients like Brizzly mute them without unfollowing). That ability to unfollow without alerting the unfollowed person is a pretty big advantage I think… look at the angst of unfriending someone on Facebook as a comparison.

    In other words not all opt-in is the same, so while I agree with Marks, this is an advantage that won’t apply equally across services.

  • I expanded on this a bit over at my own blog – “Tummling, SideWiki, Twitter and the Tragedy of the Comments revisited”

  • Vladimir Cupal

    I believe a lot of people find TV more interesting than Twitter, because it is passive on their end and they actually want passive entertainment and news source. Twitter on the other hand demands active participants to create that feedback loop.

  • Marshall,

    I have a completely different view of this, which is that twitter is a form of communication, and so to me, updates are talk, contributions are talk, content is talk, and the “feedback loop” is talk.

    It would be easy to conflate “higher quality content” in terms of production values and entertainment/attention value (mass media’s def of content quality) with the quality owing to relationship and social interest. Higher quality in communication terms may just mean “more interesting” or more personally relevant — having nothing to do with quality in terms of production value of course.

    I don’t dispute the claim outright, but it may be moot, in part because mass media is socializing itself and social media is mainstreaming itself. They’re mutually disruptive and for all intents and purposes much more a spectrum of media than distinct systems. The communicability of social media will, over time, be embedded within other platforms, as the internet, and screens, continue forward towards an increasingly shared endgame.

    But in terms of the qualitative difference between twitter and tv today, I think it might help to distinguish between content as form and communication as means of production. So, tv and mass media content is published; in social tools it is communicated. Social media are in some ways a new means of production, and for this reason, I think, social content can be more interesting because it has personal and social relevance. It is not generic, but is individual. I don’t think this has anything to do with “quality” in a content sense, but does certainly have something to do with our level of interest, and the kind of interest we have. Which is: social interest and in a way that can socially engage. In short, the content of talk is communication and the motive involves attention and relationships, both of which are naturally more pregnant than the flat screen.


  • A very interesting piece.