The temporary web

I’m fretting about forgetting things, not just because I’m getting older (on top of middle-aged surgery and its inconveniences and a dicky ticker I now have sciatica; I am a parody of age). I’m fretting about us all forgetting things because we’re using Twitter.

Twitter is temporary. Streams are fleeting. If the future of the web after the page and the site and SEO is streams – and I believe at least part of it will be – then we risk losing information, ideas, and the permanent points – the permalinks – around which we used to coalesce. In this regard, Twitter is to web pages what web pages are to old media. Our experience of information is once again about to become fragmented and dispersed.

I talked about this shift on a recent Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen (audio here; shownotes here).

My own worry is that I’m twittering more and blogging less. Twitter satisfies my desire to share. That’s mostly why I blog – and that’s what makes the best blog posts, I’ve learned. I also want to store information like nuts underground; once it’s on the blog, I can find it. But when I share links on Twitter, they’ll soon disappear. I also use my blog to think through ideas and get reaction; Twitter’s flawed at that – well, I guess Einstein could have tweeted his theory of relativity but many ideas and discussions are too big for the form – yet I now use Twitter to do that now more than this blog.

It’s not as if I couldn’t and shouldn’t also blog about what I talk about on Twitter; tweets can become the trial out of town, the blog Broadway (a book Hollywood). But Twitter competes for my time and attention. It is so much faster and easier. It’s good enough for most of my purposes. So the blog suffers. And I suffer. I discuss less here; I’ll lose some of you as a result and you are the value I get from blogging. I lose memory. And I lose the maypole around which we can gather.

On Rebooting the News, we also talked about what it takes to get an idea, a meme to critical mass. Blogs, I said, are better at that because they can gather attention over time. On Twitter, an idea can, of course, be spread but its half-life is that of a gnat. I’m proud of this post – The future of news is entrepreneurial – and it got retweeted for almost 24 hours, which is forever in Twitter time. Most things come and go in matters of minutes. So Dave and I were talking about getting new conventions used on Twitter but Twitter turns out not to be a great way to make that happen because ideas and conversations disappear in smoke.

Paul Gillin just asked whether soon, everything you’ve learned about SEO will be worthless. That’s because search is turning social and our search results are becoming personalized, thus we don’t all share the same search results and it becomes tougher to manage them through SEO. Put these factors together – the social stream – and relationships matter more than pages (but then, they always have).

It means nothing that I fret or worry about any of this. Change is inexorable, even – especially – in the agent of change. But it’s always important to stand back and see the implications in change and I think we’re going to need to find new ways to hold onto memories and make memes happen. That or I have to hold true to my vow to blog more.

: OH, AND… I got distracted by reading Twitter (really) and so I forgot to mention the other Twitter issue: distraction. I’m finding it much harder to stay focused on doing one thing because I now can do so many. That doesn’t mean I’ll end up thinking less for a blog post (or book), only that the stream interrupts the thing (the post, the page) in more ways.

  • You know it’s interesting. I skim read for the main point about fragmentation and then got distracted by twitter. There are as you rightly point out, down sides to information overload. One being if you’re already ADD like me, concentration is now even harder.

    The ability to finish an idea, is rarely as captivating and full bodied as it exists in a book. A physical book, that is published, still holds an awful lot of weight as a resource.

    New media may replace the paper pages, but the value of the knowledge inside those pages will always shine in my humble opinion.

  • I have a similar type of problem. Twitter for links I find interesting but have nothing much to add to them, Posterous for short and/or off topic blog posts and my own blog for the more long form stuff. Want to guess which one gets the most attention and which one has atrophied?

  • Michael Skoler

    Thoughtful and candid post on a feeling I think many will share. I find the blogs are what I long to read and often skip over the impressions shared on Twitter… unless they have a link. Hold true to the vow to blog more.

  • It’s interesting how blogging was once “too fast” compared to traditional media (at least in terms of publishers ability to keep up) and now Twitter is making blogging seem like a more manageable pace. But I define agree, Twitter is full throttle all the time which creates a never-ending struggle to try to keep up and get value from it, which I guess is why tools that attempt to tame it are so popular. But no tools can completely sort out the signal from the noise all the time, so there’s always so much that gets lost in the shuffle.

  • Agreed. It appears that the media evolution over time has steadily been nudging us in this direction: A place where expression is effortless, hence we put less effort into it. There are more voices and content then ever, but the substance and our attention is scarce. This and other outlets notwithstanding, and despite numerous advantages web brings (e.g., crowdsourcing, collaborative writing), our discussion on blogs, twitter, and the like, seems rather shallow.

  • I also struggle to write longer blog posts. And yet what do I enjoy reading when I click on links others have shared on Twitter? People’s blog posts (as evidenced by my arrival here). If the same people who write those posts are also those distracted by Twitter, are we going to gradually find less material to tweet about? I imagine we’ll always find something to discuss, but I hope we (myself included) find a balance between creating substantial new content and discussing/retweeting it.

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  • Twitter might be only temporary, but aren’t most things we put on there temporary? You make a quick remark on something, you give out a link to an article you find interesting, etc. Those things are important in a certain way, but we won’t rely on twitter for the things we really care about or for permanent points. Didn’t blogs just evolve from quick ideas and longer thoughts to only the elaborate thoughts, leaving twitter with the rest?

  • Rodolfo Reis

    I thought just me acted exactly like that… You forgot mention that we’re becoming lazy too! Magazines, newspapers and now the blog posts (like this) takes a looong time to read! :)
    Anyway, let’s go back to TweetDeck’s cockpit Tweeters!

  • Just as many books should really just be magazine articles, many blog posts can just be tweets. It’s not a bad thing that we’re blogging less. Reserve posts for more substantial ideas. Tweet stray thoughts and links.

  • I still find blogs to be much more interesting than Twitter…

  • Jeff,

    My exact feelings since May 2007.

    Just as most tweets are incredibly fragmented, so becomes our attention spans and our ability to follow through on singular ideas.

    Sometimes I think about the effect Pokemon has had on the Asian kids I used to teach in Flushing and it all makes sense…

  • being a twitternoob, i’m disocvering this myself just recently. something said as little ago as yesterday is a chore to find.

    we need, at the very least, better twitter client facilities, and commensurate API capacity, to effect an OS X Time Machine-like reviewing of our twitter history.

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  • Twitter certainly is replacing blogging for many people, and for many big name bloggers too.

    And the real-time web is most definitely a temporary web. Blink and you’ve missed it.

  • I wish I could blog more but I simply don’t have the time. It’s much faster to tweet something. Although I still manage to blog up to ten posts a week.

  • Seems you may be working at cross purposes with twitter. It’s a pure tool of discovery, IMO. Take the info you find there and store it elsewhere (like the analogy, btw). Most of the stuff on twitter links elsewhere anyway.

  • PS Scoble recently had a good post about leaving twitter for friendfeed for more substantive conversations, and then coming back around b/c he preferred quality one-way info to fragmented 2+-ways.

  • mrs buttons

    you’re being too anal.
    99.99% of what’s on twitter should be forgotten!

    – it’s only exists for the time you see it – enjoy it use it or let it go…

  • mrs buttons

    I think all of this spells bad news for the book industry – if the writers are so distracted by the internet, how will books get written?
    Also curious to know from the group -what was the last book you read? how long ago? where do you read it ? desk? bed? sofa? was it fiction or non fiction? did it get your attention from a website or some other venue? (Perusing the stalls, ads, word of mouth, Amzn..) thanks!

  • I am also curious to know how you make your money writing – so much free content coursing thru the veins of the twitters of the world, I wonder whta KIND of content folks are willing to pay for – have any of you sold an e-book? If so was it lucrative?

    Also – do more writers write a book first, then promote themselves and the book thru their website, or do writers build a customer base first and then have the writings “evolve” into a book as per Jeff’s concern with fidning a permanent home for the words?

    I am a writer coming from the advertising business and morphing into ( not sure yet)

  • sorry for the typos above-, no I am not stupid but I am tired

  • cm

    Editing still has a role. Its purpose is to distill value from the vast amount of crap out there. It is the difference between data and information.

    Tweeting is like talking. There is a whole lot of dross that is not worth remembering or logging. Just as you probably don’t record every bar conversation you have, you don’t need to store every tweet. Anyone that thinks they do is unbelievably vain.

    Someone at MIT had the idea for many people to walk around recording their every move to generate podcasts. That failed because the real work in generating a podcast is not just recording the sound but the planning, editing etc that differentiates something worth listening to from sonic rubbish.In other words, the editing.

    That’s surely the distinction between journalism and tweeting “OMG did u hear that”.

    The effort to do publish a book or even write to the editor is higher than the effort to blog and tweet. Less effort makes it easier to do things, but t also means that people will sound off with less motivation. In other words about increasingly meaningless things. Chances are that an editorial, which takes a reasonable degree of effort to write, is well thought out and well constructed – even if you disagree with the contents. Chances are that a tweet is pure crap.

    Nothing of value comes at zero effort . If you really heard something valuable during a bar chat or see a useful tweet worth remembering then write it down somewhere. Edit it into something more valuable and publish it appropriately. Likely something that can’t fit into 140 chars.

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  • Derek

    Sorry, Jeff, but you’re coming in too late on this. I teach journalism and my students’ time/interest horizon is now so short that the kind of rigorous, sustained intellectual engagement with an idea (note the singular is intentional here) that is required of in-depth investigative journalism — the long, tedious but immensely important narrative arc of digging, as it were — is hardly in evidence anymore. They’re just not wired for it. I love the Internet: Who would have thought that one day there would be hand-held devices offering us not just instant access to each other, but to much of the knowledge in the world? But more and more, I see its costs, not just intellectually and socially, but even, well, spiritually. The relentless self-reference and narcissicism of the web world (with all due respect, including this site, Jeff); the isolation (are we interacting with other human beings, or a small hunk of silicon and steel?); and the hubris of the Church of Technology, which is rapidly replacing the “church” of culture. All these artifacts of the virtual Id are tempering my love affair with the web. Lump me in with your curmudgeons, who you so contemptuously dismiss as fallen gatekeepers. But the remorseless “oversharing” subculture of the web that you appear to embrace with glee does, after awhile, start to leave an intangible void. (Paradoxically, advertising every stray thought that pops into our heads tends, strangely, to devalue our individuality, making us less — not more — interesting.) Web world turns time into an enemy instead of a friend. And as for Twitter? Like so much else about this revolution, and it is an epochal revolution . . . it’s like empty calories.

    • As you wish, lumped you are. You are missing the opportunities and the new realities. Your loss. You also forgeot to sign your name.

  • Social networking portals are responsible for distracting students from their studies. Twitter, Facebook etc might be great phenomenons but they are responsible for students spending lesser time of their studies.

  • >Edunetsys,

    Arguably, so are video games, pot and girls/boys. But don’t forget about parents and teachers.

    I certainly wouldn’t let my kid use twitter, even if he was smoking pot.

  • I can’t see the point of Twitter. The Tweets I’ve read say little of interest. To be honest, I can’t see what you can say of interest in 140 characters. It’s beyond me.

  • Yes, please, less tweeting and more blogging. I’ve found the SMS output of both you and Jay to be extremely unsatisfying, because if you’ve not read the links, all is missed. I simply do not have the time – nor the wish – to follow the links that fill in the obvious blanks in a 140 character message. My hip replacement bleeds for your sciatica.

  • I think about the effect Pokemon has had on the Asian kids I used to teach in Flushing

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  • It’s funny…back in 2003, I wrote a similar lament, but about how *blogs* were such a short-term, impermanent form of conversation… :)

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  • Twitter, the timesink of a generation. With your blog I can pull up a chair, sip my coffee and enjoy for awhile, with a tweet it’s done before the page has finished loading. Most of the country now suffers from what my immediate circle is calling “googleitis”, the hours of random aimless netsurfing jumping from one topic to the next without ever really having read anything, you just amuse your eyes for a few seconds.

  • It’s good to see that I’m not alone in being unimpressed by Twitter and unmoved by the tub thumping of the Twittergelicals. Twitter is like a potato chip and a blog is like a meal. I prefer a meal.

    You know, I was thinking about all these new ways of communicating and I came up with a new one. This works not with a text but with a voice. What if you could actually speak to someone through a plastic handset that you carried in your pocket. That would be a great way to communicate, don’t you think, everyone?

  • Well articulated, Jeff. Most bloggers I read are blogging less and tweeting more, although many still manage to prolific in the longform.

    In terms of “losing tweets,” try adding the RSS feed from @jeffjarvis into Google Reader. That should both archive the stream and make it searchable.


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  • I feel your pain, Jeff. Which is why I got rod of my Blackberry, leave the computer at the office at night, and also, I am happy to say, upped my cartoon production fivefold compared to a year ago.

    I needed to get back to basics. The state of constant distraction you speak of was getting REALLY annoying for me

    Like I said on my blog, the internet has liberated us from so much; it’s no duty not to become enslaved by the very thing that freed us in the first place.

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