Twitter: Email-Less Email. Or IM-Less IM. Or Something.

With the Twitter messaging service seeing a new round of rapid growth, it’s fun watching people falling all over themselves doing some meme-labeling. Twitter is a conversation ecosystem! Twitter is a two-way conversation! Twitter is a conversation hub! It’s Twitterific! You even have lashback effects, with former profligate users explaining why they don’t use Twitter any more.

Oh, ick.

The runaway discussion has quickly become a lot like the parable of the three blind men and the elephant. Email afficionadoes seeing Twitter in email terms, IM nutters seeing it in messaging terms, and Facebook fans seeing Twitter in — you guessed it — social network terms.

Twitter is those three things, and less. It is a little bit of email — it is asynchronous — and a little bit of IM — you write and send and receive short bursts — and a little bit of social networks — you create an ad hoc community around yourself and communicate therein.

But (and here’s the important bit) Twitter is assiduously less than all of the above. It isn’t a very good email app, nor a great IM client, nor a real social network. And that’s great. We don’t need more of any of those things, and slicing off the good bits of all ’em makes Twitter strangely useful, at least in moderation, even if no-one, including its biggest fans, can satisfactorily explain quite why.


Oh, and you can follow me here on Twitter, of course, even if it’s mostly just automated links back to posts on this site. And as a further related aside, I would likely not use Twitter much at all were it not for Snitter (for my laptop/desktop), TwitterBerry (for Blackberry), and Hahlo (for iPhone), just so you know.


  1. I’ve never been able to understand why I like Twitter so much after initial skepticism. You’re explanation is as good as any I’ve read.