TITLE: Still Skeptical About Tweetstorms AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 19, 2017 2:52 PM DESC: ----- BODY: The last couple of months have been the sparsest extended stretch on my blog since I began writing here in 2004. I have missed the feeling of writing, and I've wanted to write, but I guess never wanted it enough to set aside time to do the work. (There may be a deeper reason, the idea of which merits more thinking.) It's also a testament to the power of habit in my life: when I'm in the habit of writing, I write; when I fall out of the habit, I don't. During my unintended break from blogging, I've remained as active as usual on Twitter. But I haven't done much long-form writing other than lecture notes for my compiler class. And that includes writing tweetstorms. I'm one of those people who occasionally snarks on Twitter about tweetstorms. They always seem like a poor substitute for a blog entry or an essay. While I've probably written my last snarky tweet about tweetstorms, I remain skeptical of the form. That said, my curiosity was aroused when Brian Marick, a writer and programmer whose work I always enjoy, tweeted yesterday:
[Note re: "write a blog post". I think the tweetstorm is different lit'ry form, and I like exploring it.]
I would love for Brian or anyone else to be able to demonstrate the value in a tweetstorm that is unique from equivalent writing in other forms. I've read many tweetstorms that I've enjoyed, including the epic Eric Garland disquisition considered by many to be the archetype of the genre. But in the end, every tweetstorm looks like either a bullet-point presentation that could be delivered in Powerpoint, or something that could stand on its own as an essay, if only the sentences were, you know, assembled into paragraphs. I am sympathetic to the idea that there may be a new literary form lurking here. Like any constraint, the 140-character limit on tweets causes writers to be creative in a new way. Chaining a sequence of similarly constrained statements together as a meaningful whole requires a certain skill, and writers who master the style can pull me through to the end, almost despite myself. But I would read through to the end of a blog entry written as skillfully, and I wouldn't have to do the assembly of the work in my head as I go. Perhaps the value lies in Twitter as an interaction mechanism. Twitter makes it easy to respond to and discuss the elements of a tweetstorm at the level of individual tweet. That's handy, but it can also be distracting. Not every Twitter platform manages the threading as well as it could. It's also not a new feature of the web; any blogging platform can provide paragraph-level linking as a primitive, and discussion forums are built on modular commentary and linking. Maybe tweetstorms are popular precisely because Twitter is a popular medium of the day. They are the path of least resistance. That leads to what may be the real reason that people explore the form: Twitter lowers the barrier of entry into blogging to almost nothing: install an app, or point a web browser to your homepage, and you have a blogging platform. But that doesn't make the tweetstorm a new literary form of any particular merit. It's simply a chunking mechanism enforced by the nature of a limited interface. Is there anything more to it than that? I'm an open-minded person, so when I say I'm skeptical about something, I really am open to changing my mind. When someone I respect says that there may be something to the idea, I know I should pay attention. I'll follow Brian's experiment and otherwise keep my mind open. I'm not expecting to undergo a conversion, but I'm genuinely curious about the possibilities. -----