[23 December 2008]
My personal Twitter experiment has failed miserably. I created an account and tried to post for a while; I even set it up so that I could post messages with my phone. But I discovered I had nothing to say in that forum. I didn’t want to share what I was doing with the world, and I didn’t have enough witticisms to keep it thriving. It was tiring trying to think aphoristically—it turns out that most would-be aphorisms require a lot of developmental context to be comprehensible.
But Twitter seems to be slowly penetrating the mainstream, and I’ve been seeing more posts like this one, from AdPulp, about Twitter’s usefulness as an advertising medium, as a perpetual personalized classifieds section. In many ways Twitter suits advertising perfectly—the whole brevity thing, for one. It allows no room to develop a logical presentation of an idea, so it must work as a notification service or in marketing’s preferred mode of illogical association (the paradigm that allows 30-second narratives to be built on the premise that drinking beer yields female attention, for instance). Also there’s the way Twitter posts tend to wash over their audience, claiming very little of our attention and concentration but often providing a disproportionate payoff in entertainment. The terms of that wager—the minimal amount of energy it takes to follow a Twitter feed versus the occasional reward—makes it easy to keep Twitter humming in the background of one’s life. At that point, it becomes an ideal advertising conduit, constantly notifying you of things you might have wanted to know but certainly could have lived without.
The harmony between Twitter and advertising seems so natural; it’s surprising it didn’t begin as an ad medium. Twitter billed itself as a crypto-blogging platform, which bathed it in Web 2.0 hype and made it seem as though it were about social interaction. This allowed it to develop the scale that would make it attractive to corporate advertisers.
Though it didn’t start as an explicit marketing tool, Twitter drew on the ubiquity of advertising discourse, offering us a way to participate in it and seem to master it, harness it for our own ends. It seems to have risen to prominence by allowing its users to craft and broadcast up-to-the-minute advertisements for themselves. The posts bear with them no expectation of literary skill or substance, so no barriers of procrastination prevent us from writing them. By broadcasting your doings in real time, in clipped, urgent language, you can feel like a celebrity and live as though someone is always watching you. This provides the useful illusion of social recognition, an illusion that reciprocal following of other feeds serves to enhance.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum is also failing to Twitter. He points out that Twitter rewards only those users who use it constantly, who integrate it completely into their lives—another reason why it’s so perfect for advertising. The key for adoption is to have it be rewarding enough for users to make that total commitment. In my view, whether one will find it rewarding enough first depends on how much one enjoys pretending to be a celebrity, and then it depends if one embraces the state of permanent distraction. I suspect there is a Zen clarity to it—one becomes totally riveted to the present, which is condensed to a stream of 140-character moments.