I popped in to 5live last week to talk about Twitter’s review of the year with Aasmah Mir. In the process I did some thinking about what it is about Twitter that has so captured people’s imagination. I didn’t get a chance to squeeze what I came up with into the chat on air so thought I’d put it down here.
For me Twitter is a bit like the red button for your TV: rather than passively observing what’s happening in the world it gives you a feeling of interacting, of being involved. Getting your information direct from the participants in major events — whether they be activists or celebrities — makes you feel that bit closer top the action.
That is true for both the dominant modes of use of Twitter that I see: the ‘few to many’ broadcast practiced by celebrities, and the ‘few to few’ interactions of niche groups connected permanently through ‘friend’ relationships (mutual followers) or more fleetingly through hashtags. For example, there’s a noticeable excitement from people following even fairly mundane live tweets from an event that may not be there if they were just reading a transcript or watching a video after the fact. Even though they’re not physically there, they feel somehow like they’re in the room.
This works because of the nature of Twitter, both that the posts are near-instantaneous, and that the reader can digest them in near real time because they are so short. It is these things combined with the very personal nature of the posts, that for me gives Twitter that sense of being close to the action, and hence its appeal.