Twitter: the Perfect Blend of Internet Content?
Twitter is a combination of different elements and content that other Internet sites and platforms already had. To me, this is what makes Twitter so great: in a way my usage of the Internet is being channeled and collected by one single website or app (depending on whether I access it via the Web or via my phone). It’s a social networking site like Facebook, handy in keeping up with what your friends are up to. It’s a personal branding and marketing medium alas LinkedIn. It’s a place for companies to share information and to improve their image. It’s the place to go to for information on artists. It’s a (micro)blog that leads you to other interesting recommended links. It’s a RSS feed. It’s the fastest news source you’ll ever find. Heck, who needs the Web when we got Twitter?
Chris Anderson writes about this development in the latest Wired, in an article tentavely called ‘The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet.’ According to him, we are in the process of starting to only using applications that give access to the relevant parts of the Internet, in a more effective way than traditional surfing and browsing would. He refers to a “now-infamous” article Wired published in 1997. In this article, Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf predict with surprising accuracy:
Sure, we’ll always have Web pages. We still have postcards and telegrams, don’t we? But the center of interactive media – increasingly, the center of gravity of all media – is moving to a post-HTML environment, a world way past a Web dominated by the page, beyond streamed audio and video, and fast into a land of push-pull, active objects, virtual space, and ambient broadcasting. You might not want to believe us, but a place where you can kiss your Web browser goodbye.
Anderson points to the great array of apps that are currently at our disposal and argues that in a few years apps will be taking up most of our time we spend on the Internet, via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, apps of papers, podcasts and RSS feeds. After all, the Web is an app on the Internet itself. We have started to access the Internet through a smaller group of apps and websites: “According to Compete, a Web analytics company, the top 10 Web sites accounted for 31 percent of US pageviews in 2001, 40 percent in 2006, and about 75 percent in 2010.”
Of course there are some points we should not forget about. There are dangers in the limited and targeted use of the Internet through an app, especially an app like Twitter. When using the app, I of course only read the content that’s being produced by the people I chose to follow: Twitter has become my carefully constructed window to the world. Next to this, even if I would be able to follow all of Twitter, I still wouldn’t have a complete picture of society and what’s happening in it. There’s still a very specific group of Twitter users worldwide. The Twitter community is not necessarily representative of any offline community. But if it’s not on Twitter, it didn’t happen, right?
Let me give you an example of what the effect of my personal window could be. On Twitter, I just follow one political figure. I follow Femke Halsema, the leader the leftist political party GroenLinks. Next to this, I follow the Politiek24 account, which is some sort of live TV guide for the digital politics channel of the Netherlands of the same name. So when mainly using Twitter as my (political) news feed, this is what happens: Politiek24 twitters that there’s a press conference on some argument during the formation of the new cabinet coming up. This gives me very limited information on the topic, but more importantly, my first opinion comes from the one political Twitter account I follow: the leftist vision of Halsema. If I don’t feel like getting deeper into this particular news event, then this is all that I have seen: a political conflict and the reaction of GroenLinks. This can narrow my political scope and objective information access in a serious way, exactly like Cass R. Sunstein described in his book ‘Republic.com 2.0’. When mainly using the Internet through apps and specific websites, you have to try to stay out of the loop of the likeminded.
Anderson, Chris, Michael Wolff. ‘The Web is dead. Long live the Internet.’ Wired (september 2010). <http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1>
Kelly, Kevin, Gary Wolff. ‘PUSH!’ Wired, vol. 5, nr. 3 (march 1997). <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.03/ff_push.html>
Sunstein, Cass R. Republic. com 2.0. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007.