Finding the Dolphin – The Great Twitter Experiment, Day 0

Posted in The Internet by Dan on February 11th, 2009

I’ve said it before, I don’t get Twitter.  For me, the hysteria generated by the flat-lined signal-to-noise ratio of this limited medium is deeply confusing. The last time I felt like this was back in the early 90s as I stared cross-eyed and frustrated at one of those Magic Eye pictures, trying to find the dolphin. How come everybody else can see something in it while to me it’s just nonsense?

Since I last wrote on the subject of Twitter, the hype has increased still further. Somebody used TwitPic to post a picture of the AirBus that landed in the Hudson River in New York. As a result, this “citizen journalist” earned himself 15 minutes of international fame, including featuring on the BBC’s television news at least twice. I somehow suspect that had he chosen to upload his snap to Flickr instead, the BBC would not have been nearly as interested. Somebody at BBC News is a Twitter lover. The corporation’s online coverage of the recent attacks in Mumbai prominently featured information sourced from Twitter, whether accurate or not.

If further evidence were needed that with Twitter the medium really is more important than the message, it arrived last week. What was this seismic event that many are heralding as the tipping point for the microblogging revolution?  Stephen Fry got stuck in a lift. No, really, that’s it. Had General Melchett used his Blackberry to phone a journalist instead of to tweet, he could not have bribed them to write about this unfortunate but utterly banal occurrence.

I am not alone in my dismissal of Twitter as an irrelevance. Terence Blacker writing in the Independent aptly described it as “self-stalking” and summed it up as follows:

Twitter may have novelty value but it is more than mere surface silliness. It is anti-thought, the deadening white noise of modern life with all its pointless business. As for the dotty idea that short computer messages are full of wit, insight or observation – that is, to quote the master twitter himself, “arse, poo and widdle”.

I discovered the Independent article via Graham Linehan’s blog. Linehan (co-writer of the peerless Father Ted) has a different take on the value of Twitter:

…the manifold possibilities of Twitter are enough to make you giddy. This is a new world, people! We are officially in the future, not with jetpacks, but with something much cooler – the hive mind. Ignore those grumpy luddites in the broadsheets and elsewhere, who don’t understand it, can’t be bothered to learn how it works and are frightened at the prospect that people are entertaining themselves in a way that doesn’t involve accepted media forms.

By now, I think that I’ve firmly established that I don’t really see the point of Twitter, but I don’t want to be dismissed as a “luddite” who “can’t be bothered to learn how it works”. So it’s time to take the red pill and see for myself how deep this rabbit hole goes. Today I’m embarking on an experiment: a two-week trial to see whether there is any substance to the Twitter hype. I’m deeply sceptical but also approaching it with an open mind. Will I experience a higher level of conciousness or will I endure and proliferate a fortnight of pointless anti-thought?

I’ve just signed up for a Twitter account. If you’re already a Twitter user, I need some followers (sounds like I’m starting my own religion here). I also need interesting people to follow. Please also send me tips on how to get the most out of Twitter. If you are one of the many people who responded to my previous post agreeing that Twitter was pointless, I will report back here at regular intervals in the next couple of weeks and let you know how it’s going on the other side.

Stand back, I’m going in…