Twitter is just an aggregator. Twitter aggregates “tweets” – packets of information from a certain identity to the world. There is no specific recipient and the message is any combination of mime-types. It’s practically the least specific you can possibly be in messaging and that is why it is interesting.
What Twitter is teaching us is that people will decide who to listen to. The old way of thinking was that people opt-in, and we send them messages. The new thinking is, send messages, and interested audiences will find them.
Twitter has a proprietary way of letting us do this now. Through a combination of “following”, #searching and @references, Twitter lets us “power opt-in” where we can see old messages and decide how or if we want to see new messages. Further, as is well-known, sending messages isn’t enough anymore. Now entities need to listen, too, and participate, wittingly or unwittingly, in the conversation. When I inject into the stream “Your Company = #fail”, people will notice. This is simply because the time series of messages is easily filterable.
Sometimes, uninterested audiences will find these messages, too. In his book “Here Comes Everybody” Clay Shirky describes this beautifully: “…why would anyone put such drivel online? It’s simple. They’re not talking to you. We misread these seemingly inane posts because we’re so unused to seeing written material in public that isn’t intended for us.”
He’s totally right: these new communication tools are something we just are not used to. We’re used to one-to-one communication (like the phone) or one-to-many communication (like TV) but we are not yet accustomed to is the many-to-many model that email introduced and which has been taken to the next level by blogs and Twitter and the like. So, we encounter messages that we don’t care about (like “I had a sandwich for lunch!”) and we don’t know what to do with it, aside from feel irritated that someone used up our brain for the two seconds it took to read.
At any rate, the Twitter/Facebook monopoly of the real-time/archived message stream will end because the concept will become integrated into our expectations. The ‘stream is here to stay in ways we are just realizing. One needs to look no further than Google Wave or the nascent threadsy.com for a glimpse of the future.
The same is true of location (i.e. “GPS”) but that is another blog post…