Felix Writes: Microblogging, the missing medium

DigitalThoughts / Microblogging, the missing medium

2009-08-18

It seems no month goes by without some remarkable news coming from the land of ones and zeroes. Even more remarkable is the amount of coolness people turn out when they're not afraid of the future. This time it's about a most traditional medium -- Broadway musicals -- embracing a very new one: microblogging. The story (or should I say meta-story?) as covered by the New York Times is simple. Some smart people ran a show simultaneously in the theater and as a Twitter adaptation. The result: half a million followers, many of whom were interested enough to go see the live performance, but also to engage with the cast and crew in conversation.

This is just the latest in a long stream of success stories from the relatively young medium of microblogging. It was used to report on the Iranian election protests in June, and to organize the Moldovan election protests in April. It told the world in real time about the Hudson River plane crash in January and arguably helped Mr. Obama win the U.S. presidential elections last year. More recently, we've been shown How an Indie Musician can make $19,000 in 10 hours using Twitter. And still, each new microblogging success story seems to amaze the world. Why is that?

The answer, I think, is perfectly summarized in this tweet quoted by a recent article in Wired Magazine:

@danyork said 'the popularity of microblogging shows us that we were missing a medium,' -- http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/08/twitpocalypse/

Much has been written about what is obviously a major cultural phenomenon. It seems appropriate that the best explanation would fit in 140 characters. Like cellphones and the Internet itself, microblogging filled a void we didn't know existed. Sure, some people use the new medium to send spam, or to tell the whole world what they had for breakfast, while others never post anything, but just follow others. But a surprising number of talented, imaginative enthusiasts use it to do stuff with information that the rest of us didn't think possible, and I can't help but wonder: what's next?

The answer is likely to surprise me.

P.S. Is it a coincidence that Twitter was just hit with a patent lawsuit? As the saying goes, "...then they fight you...". And we all know how that ends.