Phenomena of/Article on Microblogging

Jason Pontin has a good article in the November/December 2007 issue of the MIT Technology Review on the phenomena of microblogging.

I'm not much of a microblogger myself, at least in the strictest sense of the word, because I don't use Twitter or Jaiku or any of those specialist services. I do, however, update my "status" on Facebook every now and then. And by "every now and then" I mean whenever anything interesting happens in my life. I find it very hard -- and, in many ways -- pointless to be constantly updating some web service with what I am doing, feeling, or thinking at that time. People have better things to do with their lives than knowing, for example, that I am now at the market buying eggs. Or, of course, "watchin' the game, havin' a bud"...which, naturally, begs the question "what are you doing?"...which, in turn, happens to be Twitter's tagline.

My criteria for updating my status, then, is anything going on in my life that can lead to an interesting comment or discussion. Or, if not that, at least something that is funny, interesting, or unusual. Basically, anything that is not mundane, boring, or (blatantly) unoriginal. Unless, of course, that mundane, boring, or unoriginal thing that I'm doing is something I really want to share with my friends and family. In which case, that thing -- in my opinion, at least -- isn't mundane, boring, or unoriginal after all. You get my drift, right?

Start Aside: Blogging (Not of the Micro Kind)

In many ways, I apply the same logic to my blog. Though I do add one more criterion to what I blog about: I blog about things that I don't want to bookmark or don't want to remember to tell people in the future. This post is a case in point. I read a good article on the web that I found interesting. I thought other people would find it interesting too.

In the past, when this happened, my default action would have been to bookmark the site if the article was really interesting (otherwise bookmark volumes get out of hand really quickly), save a copy of the article on my computer (should I want to read it later), and compose an e-mail to friends and family members (who'd be interested in this) in which I'd include a link to the article and my comments. Nowadays, though, I just blog about the article instead. This provides automatic bookmarking (since the article is linked-to from my post), categorization (through tagging), and archival/storage (that too, online). It also makes it easier for my friends and family members since they don't get extra e-mails from me, they can read the article and my comments whenever they want to, and they can comment on my comments as well. Additionally, the group of people that I offer my comments to has also been expanded considerably. Yes, it's fun all around :)

End Aside: Back to Microblogging

That said, there are a lot people out there who love the mundane, the boring, and (really) the unoriginal...which maybe I should now abbreviate to MBO! Which brings me back to Pontin's article:
Sending microblogs broadcasts, "I am here!" Reading microblogs satisfies the craving of many people to know the smallest details of the lives of people in whom they are interested. Already, new-media intellectuals have coined a term to describe the new social behavior they say microblogging encourages: they talk of "presence," a shorthand for the idea that by using such tools, we can enjoy an "always on" virtual omnipresence.

Though what I should really be pointing you to is his conclusion:
I quickly realized that decrying the banality of microblogs missed their very point. As Evan Williams puts it, "It's understandable that you should look at someone's twitter that you don't know and wonder why it should be interesting." But the only people who might be interested in my microblogs--apart from 15 obsessive Pontin followers on Twitter--were precisely those who would be entertained and comforted by their triviality: my family and close friends. For my part, I found that the ease with which I could communicate with those I love encouraged a blithe chattiness that particularly alarmed my aged parents. They hadn't heard so much from me in years.

Which, of course, comes with the caveat:
On the other hand, I strongly disliked the radical self-exposure of Twitter. I wasn't sure it was good for my intimates to know so much about my smallest thoughts or movements, or healthy for me to tell them. A little secretiveness is a necessary lubricant in our social relations.