In which the author summarizes the authority-based tweet debate and then finds something new to write about

Well, the issue of authority-based searching on Twitter is here to stay, even though Loic Le Meur, the guy who started all of this by asking for some sort of authority search feature on his blog, has amended his opinion. He points out now that “authority” was a poor word choice that resulted from the fact that he speaks French first and English second.

Given this amendment, I’d like to say that authority-based Twitter searching is nothing more than an academic exercise, debated by bloggers across the Web in their posts and in their comments on other people’s posts. But I cannot say that because at least two developers have come out with sites to search Twitter based on the number of followers that users have.

These two new sites are Twitority and Twithority. Twitority’s tagline says “Authority based twitter search,” and Twithority’s says “Twitter Search by — Authority.” Both of those sites are still sticking by the word authority, though I wonder how long that will last when the discussion hasn’t yet managed to come up with a solid definition of authority as it pertains to Twitter. (The comments in TechCrunch’s latest on the subject offers some good ideas, though.)

Of course, not everybody cares about Twitter and any authority its users might derive from their status as Twitter users. On TechCrunch’s , commenter Scott C. writes:

Because “twittering” makes NO SENSE. It’s somewhere between a text message, an instant message and an email…and there’s just no reason to have it. It’s sortof like “micro blogging” via Tumblr. You either write nothing or something. Anything inbetween is ultimately a waste of time and energy.

The commenters on that TC post, some of them at least, see Twitter as just another fad, a “mutual admiration society” within “the largest echo chamber in all of tech,” that is, TechCrunch itself.

Kara Swisher at the Wall Street Journal’s “All Things Digital” blog goes into a little more detail about the perceived importance of Twitter.

I think, though, the real story is the endless echo chamber of Silicon Valley that seems to persist in overestimating the meaning of Twitter, especially compared to so much more that is going on in the tech industry.

With only about six million registered users (with a much lower number of active ones), Twitter gets written about as if it were a mover and shaker extraordinaire, instead of just being what it is: An interesting status-alert start-up that makes zero revenues and turned down a very large buyout offer from another once-too-overhyped start-up (Facebook).

Well, after yet another week in the real world, I am here to tell you, precious few people still have any clue what Twitter is or how it works.

Is Twitter’s importance overrated? Maybe, but I think a larger and more culturally important issue is highlighted by one of the comments on Swisher’s post.

Commenter Andrew writes:

Sometimes tweets can be much more effective than blog posts. I like reading your work, but this article required a lot of reading to say very little. First of all, it took way too long to even state the issue. Fun banter is great to have in your style but it appears as though this post was all fun and banter and no much else.

Also, if you would try to get into a Twitter a bit more, you might find that many people have become really good at saying much more in 140 characters than you were able to say here in this very long blog post.

Not meaning to be critical of you, just being critical of your work in this case.

Andrew wants to reduce reading to the act of obtaining and absorbing bits of new information; at least, that’s how I read his comment. (Of course, I’m blowing his comment out of proportion, but that’s what happens when an innocent sentence incites thought.)

So in this commenter’s view, a view that seems, anecdotally at least, to be more and more common these days, reading is about the gains in information that can be made by the act of reading something. Reading for enjoyment or exploring a subject with an author through their skillful and intelligent use of language is a thing of the past. No one in the tech world has time for things like style and play; it’s about getting the data now and getting as much of it as possible.

I’ve been worried about this for a while. I think my worry intensified when CNN added the bullet-point summaries at the top of their articles. Seriously, the inverted-pyramid style of journalistic writing is supposed to be a summary in and of itself. It doesn’t need more summarizing. Are we, as a society, so rushed that we can’t bother to read a 400-word AP-style article, especially when we were interested enough in its headline to click through to its text?

Swisher’s article, which was blissfully short compared to some blog posts (like this one), didn’t take too long to get to the point, and its banter, the characteristic that readers like Andrew find to be a waste of time and attention, is part of Swisher’s style (probably part of the reason she was hired to write for the WSJ in the first place).

Yes, Swisher probably could have boiled her article’s data content down to a 140-character snippet, but that’s not what writer’s get paid for. Writers get paid for their intelligence and their skill with language, their ability to manipulate words and ideas into shapely and meaningful texts.

When we start to exorcise style and beauty from our reading habits, we eliminate that part of reading that connects us with other human beings. Readers like this become nothing more than information processors, often overloaded processors. It’s no wonder that we don’t feel like we have time to read an entire article and sort through its language to find meaning.

I use Twitter. I’m aware of that my love of long-writing conflicts with my use of a microblogging service. But I also don’t feel like Twitter writing is going to advance society much in the long run. Twitter is more of a sandbox, a source of discussion and debate that leads the smart people out there in Internetland to go home, think about what they’ve done and come back to do some long-writing on the subject. That long-writing then feeds the discussion machine, and the process repeats.

The short-writing will inspire and incite us. The long-writing will make us better human beings.

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