Microblogging, 10 years after



Almost 10 years ago, on 18 August 2009, I wrote a blog post titled "Microblogging, the missing medium". I'm reproducing it below for two reasons: one, it's referenced from an older post on this blog, and the wiki where it was hosted just went offline. Two, to put things in perspective a little, because the world was so different it's hard to believe, looking back.

To wit: 10 years ago I still had a full-time job, though it would only last until autumn, just another victim of the financial crisis that was in full swing at the time, having hit Romania with a slight delay. Ironically, I had been on Identi.ca for 9 months, though I wouldn't be on Twitter for another 18. As for my blog, it was hosted on My Opera, a service that wouldn't last much longer either. Select posts from that era remained on this site until recently; you can still read my old reviews in the sci-fi section.

10 years ago, it was hard to believe the world's greatest power would slide backwards so abruptly, wiping out decades of progress. Or that social media would become a new breeding ground for the worst kind of human scum, with the blessing of corporations. That some people were already working on federated networks was seen more as a curiosity than anything else; I was into it for the same reason I was (and still am) into Linux: because of a deep inability to fit in with the mainstream.

10 years ago, the best things in my life weren't yet a blip on my radar. Or some of the worst, for that matter. Never thought I'd end up writing three blog posts on as many successive days to compensante for failing to work on a game due to burnout, in turn due to an increasingly empty life weighing down on me.

Then again, if online friends are real friends, I guess online life must be real life too. Here on the internet, people notice if I don't log in for a day. That's scary, but it beats forgetting what your phone's ringtone sounds like.

People call me a pessimist, but read below for a bright vision of the future that was so off the mark it's tragicomic. Imagine if I had correctly predicted the current state of affairs instead.

Read, laugh, weep. And don't forget to live your life. Online or off.

Microblogging, the missing medium

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,'

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.


Tags: blog, social media, philosophy