A rather interesting comment cropped up in response to one of my automated delicious postings, and it got me thinking about what Twitter is, and why it’s so successful. Although the central premise of Twitter is simplicity and brevity - “what are you doing right now?”
Part of the appeal is watching how Twitter users bend and subvert those limitations for their own ends - status updates like those generated by Sandy, for example, or the way in which conversations can flow across the “twittersphere” (have I coined a new phrase there, or is that as annoying as blogosphere?)
But despite the deliberately limited nature of the Twitter feature set, the natural inclination on the part of us geeks is to want to extend and improve Twitter with extra features. “Now with tint control”, so to speak.
There were a couple of suggestions that cropped up in Michelle’s comment - one was the idea of a time-to-live for an individual tweet, so it would vanish in a puff of electrons after a given interval of time. Although that’s fundamentally attractive, I actually think it’s potentially undesirable on two counts - firstly that it extends away from the fundamental simplicity of twitter which to me is central to the appeal.
The second reason is that it builds in a false sense of security - that a defined TTL will result in that tweet disappearing. The problem is that anything you say on the web is instantly and irrevocably in the public domain, something that Claire Swire and Max Gogarty are going to be acutely aware of for the foreseeable future (the latter is worth looking at if only for the train wreck of a comments thread that emerges in response to the original post). The only way to be able to reclaim anonymity is to not say it at all, or at least try to self-censor.
Personally I think that our notions of privacy and the overhang of youthful indiscretions are going to have to change, if for no other reason that we’re going to run out of politicians in 20 years time unless the Facebook and Bebo generations realise that there’s no-one who’s not said something online that they later had cause to regret. (A world without politicians? An unexpected positive consequence?)
Personally, I’m not that concerned about exposing my tweets in the sidebar of this blog is that they’re out there anyway through the Twitter site itself. I’m not sure I really understand the rationale of having a private Twitter profile, as it’s only a illusory fig-leaf of security anyway.
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