Calling bottoms, calling tops, calling danger!

Cody Brown just wrote a piece bashing twitter, getting some decent play on a day twitter and other sites took a bruising.

twitterHe lodged a few complaints:

  • Its 140 character restriction is a blunt instrument. The site does not reflect the potential or nuance in which a public can speak to itself online.
  • Usernames are inconsistent and confusing. Twitter is mobbed by impersonators.
  • Twitter will either perpetually be simple insofar as its millions of users will have to hack the service to reflect their own values or it will roll the dice on a focus, put the site through chronic redesigns, and risk a mass user exodus.

I don’t know what to say. I just disagree. I mean, twitter’s not perfect, but it’s so open and promising that many very smart people are building it out, cleaning up messes, solving problems, adding value. I guess if folks are really concerned about why I disagree, we can flush it out in the comments.

Here’s what I tweeted yesterday:

By @CodyBrown, a twitter story of wildly exaggerated problems and wildly vague promises of infrastructure and elegance

And here’s what I tweeted this morning:

Really, @muratny? I’m sorry, but I think @CodyBrown’s piece is overblown and overwrought. And I’m sympathetic!

For me, this is one of those tough cases when you don’t want to blow your credibility—whatever you may have—by sounding shrill or acerbic. But let’s call a spade a spade: the piece is mostly vapid. Its reasoning just doesn’t follow.

And when it does make good points, they’re hardly original. Who isn’t gazing deeply into twitter, wondering which of its deep properties is driving its success and will in the future? Content delivered by streams defined in terms of (mostly) people? Or asymmetrical relationships? Overlapping publics? The collapse of the distinction between discourse and content? And who isn’t gazing deeply into twitter, looking for what will follow? Brown’s answer: something real-time and more elegant like facebook, picking up Dave Winer’s idea and trading in Jeff Jarvis’s words. Okay, great, thanks for the insight! Like facebook! Elegant!

They say calling a market bottom is like trying to catch a falling knife. It’s dangerous, and you never really know. Calling a top on twitter is like trying to predict with the naked eye when a rocket’s upward arc will turn back toward earth. What goes up must come down, right? We all know it’s bound to happen at some point, or maybe not, but no one really knows, and, if the rocket’s hurdling your way, insisting that it will fall is just dangerous. Or just silly.

2 Responses to “Calling bottoms, calling tops, calling danger!”

  1. 1 codyvbrowb 2009 August 8 at 1:15 am

    Hey Josh –

    You’ve fleshed it out a bit, but I’m still not really seeing your argument.

    First I’m not ‘bashing’ twitter, as I write in my post, I have grown to love Twitter. What I’m saying is that Twitter started as one thing, we’ve stumbled upon an even greater use for the product and it’s now about whether Twitter as a company can develop that use properly. I don’t think they can. There are a lot of reasons why and I use MySpace vs. Facebook as an example to flesh it out. You listed three of these arguments and I’m curious as to why you don’t think they are a hindrance on the platform. (you don’t say)

    I’m not articulating a specific vision for what a New Twitter should look like because I don’t think anyone is able to do that well at this point. Instead, I’m pointing out what I see as problems in Twitter, and making a case for how an alternative should be developed.


  2. 2 Josh Young 2009 August 10 at 3:41 am

    (1) Sure, 140’s limiting. That’s bad sometimes, like when you want to wrote more. But the fact that we’re constrained makes other people–strangers–willing to lend an ear. We figured this stuff out, though, circa 2007, right?! And you can always include a link. And so on. I agree it’s not perfect. What is? When I thinking about apps that could best twitter, however, I often end up thinking about something built on top of twitter. I think it’s got a decent shot at being our personal command line for the Internet. That would be huge, wicked huge.

    (2) I agree that impersonators are a problem, but I don’t think it’s a fatal flaw–far from it, actually. Meantime, facebook is having a way tougher time finding a natural place for businesses. Honestly, though, I don’t think the burden falls to me to explain why twitter’s identity issue is *not* fatal. I think that burden falls to you to offer more than just claims, which is basically all I gleaned from your post. Really, why is twitter’s lack of a rigorous identity scheme so deadly? Why won’t verified accounts work as a manual process for the relatively few accounts worth impersonating? I certainly don’t doubt that you can mount a thoughtful argument; I’m simply still looking for one.

    (3) The point about being simple and letting users hack the site or rolling the dice and mass exodus irks me the most, actually. You’re just speculating! Sure, the twitter guys are trying to nail down an articulation of their value proposition. I suspect all startups struggle with that–successful ones all the more. Besides, there’s a second wave of twitter-based startups coming–groups, smarter aggregation, and more. And this ecosystem of startups, which myspace had but a faint version of, will help organize the space. Again, the parallels with myspace, while not totally absent, aren’t so obvious that it’s fair for you just to point a few out, conclude twitter’s therefore likely doomed, and call it a day. I’m sure you’ve got an argument in you. Let’s hear it!

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