Does Twitter promote writing?

On: October 5, 2009
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About Sjoerd Tuinema
I'm a New Media MA student at the University of Amsterdam, carry a bachelor degree on Communication and Media Management, do design-work and am known as a notoire media junkie.


Over the years Twitter has gradually developed, meanwhile its practices have also changed drastically. The contemporary celebrities took their places, the early adopters started exploring the potentials while lobbying about it and ultimately the platform rapidly started to expand in terms of functionality. Although the range of features on the site stayed very loyal to its core functions, there has been a recent announcement [1] of a Twitter Labs for testing out third party add-ons, following the succesful formula of Facebook Prototypes and Gmail Labs.

But besides all the fuzz, when it comes down to core functionality, what does Twitter facilitate in terms of content? We could say Twitter still maintains to be a text-based application, or rather an narrative-based one. This might seem obvious, but it might not entirely logical if this will remain the case. Numberous multimedia applications gain popularity within the network; music [2], video [3] or photos [4] can all be easily broadcasted without having to type anything.

As the well-known mediacritic Andrew Keen blogs about Twitter, he’s generally optimistic [5] about the possibilities it could have for ‘his kind’, namely writers:

(..) An electronic network for messages of under 140 characters, is an ideal venue for writers to distribute their clever, superior words to the Twitmasses. It is a shop-window for talent, a dream platform to build an army of “followers” — readers who literally follow and sometimes even redistribute my words. Twitter is dramatically more efficacious than any blurb on any book jacket. It’s a beautifully speedy way for writers to market themselves in real time to actual or potential consumers of their books.

Of course, the tool itself is very much capable of generating attention (or for building new relations), as many contemporary writers have succesfully build a fanbase [6]. Still, in this case there is a lack of evidence of the relations between their ‘actual’ succes and Twitter exposure, as most probably only the big get bigger (following the Long Tail model). Also, it’s not all that clear if there’s a strong linkage between the celebrity’s fanbase and the quality of the updates, as this networking behaviour relies on multiple factors. With leaving the cleverness in linguistics (or the marketing benefits of this) outside of the discussion, there’s not much of a reason to believe the established writers own their ‘Twitter-succes’ to their updates only.

Thus, in a broader debate, the question raises: how much do users, or does the incentive of the Twitter-network, care about the quality of textual narratives? The process of automation (e.g the format for updating your location with the Twitterific client [7]) within the microblog service imply that there’s already some preference to easy-to-use templates, instead a ‘hand-made’ message. Of course, writers would tend to defend the field of narrating, but there’s much doubt if this will hold when the aphorism trend carries on like it does.

Therefore it’s not so much the question if the tendency of shortening messages and communication will occur, but rather how this will manifest in media use. In an extrapolation of the update-culture you could ask where the point of a constant stream of generated data will be reached, operating rather fully as a datamining-mechanism. This turn would inherently introduce a different state of communication as the sender takes on the role of the medium itself. In this picture, the development of efficient data transmission would impose different adjustments to our current communication-model. The question remains which side Twitter will endorse as the it’ll supposedly change its form towards the will of the indie developers while incorporating the Twitter Labs expansions.

Finally, multimedia usage within the Twittersphere could be seen as more engaging or even more communicative, as a picture says more than 1000 words, even in a 140-character messaging system. Maybe this subject requires some more attention in future writings.

  • [1] Twitter confirms ‘labs’ implementation (
  • [2], sharing music with Twitter (
  • [3] Twiddeo, sharing video with Twitter (
  • [4] Twitpic, sharing pictures with Twitter (
  • [5] Blogpost Andrew Keen, ‘Why I’m on Twitter’ (
  • [6] Writers on the WeFollow directory (
  • [7] Wikipedia entry on the Twitterific client (

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