Twitter’s power & limits- live tweeting at concerts

You might be sick of all the chatter about Twitter but beyond the Oprah/Ashton hype, it’s definitely worth mulling over, even in another medium like a blog. In fact, talking about Twitter here is a good way to point out some of its strengths and pitfalls.

For Twitter’s strengths, what do Spin, the Village Voice and the L.A. Times have in common? They’re all on Twitter of course but they’re also using it not just to post info about what’s new and upcoming in their publications (which is good promo) and some breaking entertainment news but also for concert reviews. (Note: I occasionally write for the Voice and Spin)

Last night alone provided a lot of show tweets. Spin had details about an Atlantic City gig for No Doubt (“Tiny room! It’s almost bar mitzvah sized!” and “Gwen… dancing to Sublime at afterparty”) while the Village Voice’s live blog Sound of the City covered another big show (“If your armpits smell, you should not be at the Bat for Lashes show”). Meanwhile, Ann Powers of the L.A. Times was also out, covering a show by Robin Thicke and Jennifer Hudson: “Thicke does know how to bump n grind! My my the girls in the front are fanning themselves!”

The advantages here are obvious. You’re getting real time coverage of the show and not having to wait for the review to get published in the print edition the next day or appear on the website hours later (which means the middle of the night), if that. There’s something special about hearing the details of a show as it happens that conveys the whole excitement of a live event. Also, you can get filled in immediately about a show that you couldn’t make it to or get pumped up about a show that hasn’t reached your town yet.

I got caught up in it myself when I went to see the Dead at Madison Square Garden last weekend. Unlike Spin/Voice/Powers, I made the mistake of not showing enough restraint in tweeting, actually doing it a few dozen times, which I don’t recommend. I enjoyed filling in people with ongoing details about the show (set list, the crowd), but when you’re doing it at that kind of pace, you’re bound to trip up on details and facts- one downside to immediate live coverage is that you don’t always have a chance to edit or fact check right away. I found that out when I flubbed some dates and part of the set list. When writer Ben Lazar was tweeting from a Springsteen show last week, he was actually relieved when he couldn’t report anymore- “I’m actually glad the phone died – it allowed me to concentrate fully on the show instead of partly on what I’d tweet.”

But another problem with live tweeting is that while you can pull off lotsa good one-liners, finding out something poignant and thoughtful to say there ain’t easy. It’s not just the restraint of 140 characters at a time but also coming up with bon mots quickly and succinctly (which is why I think Twitter will supplement and not replace live review articles in pubs). I’ll have more to say about cramming in hefty ideas into a tweet in my next blog post here, where I talk about some interesting and instructive arguments and discussions I’ve had on Twitter.

One piece of advice to anyone who’s doing a bunch of tweets for a live show. Use hash tags (#) to group your posts. It helps to give some context to what you’re talking about without having to repeat the subject in each tweet and it’s easier to find your group of tweets in one place this way. There’s some good advice about how to use them at this blog.