Microblogging, Twittering, and Thinking Out Loud

A recent article in the New York Times has gotten me thinking about whether there is a semantic or more substantial difference between communication models like Twitter and the writing exercise I engage in when blogging. I think there is a difference. First, “micro-blogging” models such as twittering, status-updating (Facebook, LinkedIn), and profile checking (Facebook) accomplish a task, but it is more a consumption task than a writing task. Second, blogging — whether on a specific topic, or a more general post — could and should be an exercise that requires more thought. Third — why are we talking about this at all? I think that the very ubiquity of these communication forms mean that they have quickly entered our consciousness more deeply than we could have imagined a few years ago.

So, Micro-Blogging. When I update a status on Facebook (as I am not a Twitter user), I am updating information primarily for consumption or to fuel other people’s consumption of a singular idea. It could be a passing thought (”I am thinking about how yummy ice cream could be”) or something a bit more meaningful (”wondering about life in a Hadron Collider”) but is generally a throw-away thought. However, unlike the world that Clive Thompson decries in his NYT article, the world of the status update is actually useful. More than once, status updates posted by other people in my social networks have made me aware of trends and ideas that I didn’t even know existed. These useful bits of information provide me with social cues for connecting with other people (loose ties who may not have told me that they needed contact) or just spurred topics for further thought.

I posit that further thought, though, ought to be done in a longer format. I don’t think blogging is as much effort (or provides as much value) as a longer-form article or research paper, but it does give a better platform for stating a thesis, writing about that idea, and then presenting that idea for others to review or rebut. Blogging, then, should be a place to state an idea and discuss it. Blogging ought to be the jumping-off point for a discussion, but not the entire argument, either. I use blogging to start that conversation and to provide a snapshot for what I was thinking at that time. It’s not the end of the argument, though.

So why are we discussing what should be merely a semantic difference between the “short-form”, “microblogging” post, and a longer exposition of an idea? I think it’s because the blog post, just like other similar terms (e-Business anyone), has become a regular channel of communication and is no longer as distinct as it seemed just a few years ago. It’s possible now to microblog and blog in so many forms that you can’t call blogging “sitting down to your computer and sending out links.” Blogging is now just one form of sharing ideas among the others that come to mind (Twitter, Flickr, micro-blogging through status, geo-blogging through mobile status, etc.). Hopefully we’ve come full circle, to a definition of blogging as “thinking out loud, but with a purpose.”

Clive Thompson may be right that people over 30 may think of this form of communication as inane, overly personal, or just boring. But he’s missing the point. People are communicating this way for a reason. Not only is this an easy way to communicate, but it’s an increasingly ubiquitous way to communicate. Ignore blogging, or micro-blogging, at your peril. This is an important way to learn more about your friends, your community, and the world at large. And by the way, you might learn something every day in the process of communicating and sharing this information.

(note: I rescued this post from my previous incarnation of the blog)


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