Saturday, March 14, 2009

Square Peg, Round Hole

I'm in an experimental phase with Twitter. (@SocklessJoe) I haven't made up my mind one way or the other on whether I'll use it heavily in the future, but I think the Twitter cheerleaders are making too much of it. It's a hammer, and everything looks like a nail...

Like the recently announced "twitterview", wherein George Stephanopoulos will interview Sen. John McCain via Twitter.

I think Twitter's utility will vary by individual. In some ways it fills some holes that nobody bothered to fill in RSS -- users get more or less instant notification of updates (closer to "push" than "pull"), users can respond to the message either publicly or privately, and the sender has some general idea of who is "following" them and receiving the messages.

Twitter is purposely limited to 140 character messages. This limits it primarily to (1) status updates (e.g. "just landed at the airport"), (2) links to websites (including RSS blog feeds translated into Twitter accounts), and (3) short catchphrases, slogans, and ephemera.

And this makes it terribly unsuited for an interview format.

MG Siegler:
An interview limited to 140 character questions and answers might be interesting in a gimmicky kind of way, but it’s probably not going to be Earth-shattering. Still, it’s good to see big media and politicians using the service in an effort to be more transparent.
Glad that Siegler sees its gimmicky nature, but I fail to see the good -- aside from the self-interested promotion of all things new and twittery by the would-be political geekery consultants.

In what way is a "twitterview" "more transparent"? If anything, it is obfuscatory -- Nobody who bothers to follow the interview will be assured that either Stephanopoulos or McCain is even participating in the interview! Each man will likely have a team of individuals working the interview, attempting to game each other. Given his injuries, McCain is guaranteed to have at least a typist.

We have technologies for interviews -- television, radio, even long-form print, all of which work better than Twitter for the task at hand.

Quite a few politicians have twitter accounts. Are we to believe that what they (or their staff) choose to share with the public adds to government transparency? Twitter is just another medium that is being gamed by those using it, often giving a misleadingly close sense of community, connectedness, and transparency.

There are people out there in the political consulting universe who "get it", there are those who are snake oil salesmen, and there are a lot of folks in between. Those who say the Republicans lost because we got killed on the internet are the snake oil salesmen, ignoring dozens of other much more salient flaws in the McCain candidacy. Those who say politicians must learn to navigate new media as they come along in order to enhance and magnify existing brands, messages, and communities are much closer to the truth. The distance between these two concepts is light years abroad.

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