Slow Blog Meets Twitter: Cage Match or Makeout Session?
The other day, Kate Trgovac posted, among her regular links to useful and interesting resources for product managers and marketers, a sweet note to the Manifesto:
Todd Sieling, product manager extraordinaire – here in Vangroovy, has taken up his “slow blogging” project again. A response to the hyper-immediacy of Twitter. Worth a read and a ponder.
Reading that post on Kate’s blog is like having one of your favourite musicians stop mid-song to say they heard your demo tape and really liked it. Kate invoked Twitter as a sort of antithesis of Slow Blogging, and it’s not uncommon for Twitter to come up when talking about the culture of fast, which seems to teeter on a point between ethos and pathos in online behaviour and expectation.
Twitter, at its core a stream of 140-character posts that members use to ostensibly answer the question What are you doing?, does seem at first the worst kind of snack food for the brain. The most common objection I hear when describing it to a doubter is Why do I want to know when someone is going to the bathroom? or some variant. I’m not sure why this comes to people’s minds so often, but there must be multiple psychology and cultural criticism papers just waiting to be written to explain that reaction.
Despite those impressions, I think Twitter is a fantastic service, and I use it nearly every day. However, I do so in a fairly specific way, making the most of both the required and optional constraints that Twitter provides. These constraints are critical to not feeling overwhelmed by the speed and volume of information that Twitter can deliver. The remainder of this post is about that combination of constraints, and how I think they relate to Slow Blogging and blogs overall.
The Number is 140, and 140 is the Number
The only required constraint that Twitter imposes is that of how long a given post can be. The number 140 seems arbitrary, and it is because it’s the number of characters that telecom cartels decided on for SMS text messages. As with many idiosyncrasies, however, it becomes a lovable number, meaningful for a singular reason and a secret knock to a special community.
Some people hate the limit, and do anything to get around it (multiple successive posts, alternative services, online petitions to Twitter). None of those have worked, and I hope they never do. At this point you may be tempted to call me a formalist asshole, or maybe even a structure nazi. If so, simply copy and paste those phrases into a comment, and we’ll all have a good laugh.
No, I love the limit, because it challenges me to be meaningful and clever, to apply précis, to rethink and reword and say the most with the least. Most of all, it pushes me to the point, the crux, the heart, the money shot. You don’t just choose your words carefully on Twitter; you choose every letter and space.
Twitter posts, or tweets, are typically public and viewable by anyone who happens across your posts. Optionally, they can be private and viewable only to those you let in. I use private tweets, and having this group conversation that occurs on the web but isn’t open to its unforgiving memory works very well for me. I add only those people with whom I have some kind of non-professional relationship, and in all but two cases have met personally. It’s not the big friendly circle of everyone I know, but sometimes making that separation of more and less intimate is needed to keep life from becoming a social smushball where no corner offers refuge from the others without going offline.
The Other Number: 40
This number is my own kind of arbitrary, and it’s roughly the number of people that I limit to following. I consciously cap this number to prevent the updates I see from others from becoming too noisy. This preference could well be an artifact of growing up country mouse and becoming a neighbourhood-hugging city mouse, where I like a smaller number of people I know than a larger number of familiar strangers.
The number of people one follows is a built-in constraint on how much content you’ll receive from Twitter. Adding a second layer to that by consciously limiting how many people you feel you can follow with substance keeps Twitter’s benefits from slipping past the optimal point, whatever that may be for you.
Twitter Hath No Hate for the Infrequent
A final optional constraint to discuss is frequency of posting, a matter at the heart of the Slow Blogging. Part of Twitter’s brilliant simplicity is there is no punishment or reward for infrequent posting. Based on a model of following or subscribing to other people’s updates, there is no overhead for becoming aware when someone posts a tweet: it just shows up, even if that person has said nothing for months. It takes the beautiful heart of RSS and sets it free from any suggestion of a physical form. The follow list is the feed, the feed is the follow list.
Could there be anything more compatible with Slow Blogging? A medium that makes no demand of frequency, and suggests no tax for refusing to add content to the system? Indeed, the more common situation is undoubtedly the loss of followers because of too-frequent posting. Someone should do a survey. Someone, but not me.
Back to Blogs
Blogging doesn’t have many or any of the constraints I’ve described here. That open-endedness makes a blog a blank canvas without edges. And while that edge-less nature of blogs that has made so many creative uses of the technology possible, it’s also left people feeling for the edge, and misjudging statistics as a measure of success for a creative medium. Choosing to go the slow road with a blog is a matter of choosing to impose a constraint for the sake of a more satisfying creative exercise. It may not be about preventing yourself from posting more, but instead acknowledging the pace you like to work at.