Text Still Rules

Despite the fact that I’ve been complaining lately about how much Twitter has already jumped the shark — with the influx of journalists and celebrities that are giving the site the feel of having your parents chaperone your party — the success of Twitter is making plain that text still rules as a media platform.

And it’s not only Twitter. Recently, The New York Times ran a piece on the art of the Facebook status:

Status updates are part of a Twitter-like feature that induces­ members to publish their answers to the question “What are you doing right now?” Responses, which are confined to 160 characters, then show up on the Facebook home pages of the updater’s friends.

…People point out that there’s a significant sleight-of-hand in every status update, because the real answer to “What are you doing right now?” is always just “Updating my status.” But the current friendliness of handheld devices to Facebook (and Twitter and MySpace) has made it more likely that when a pal — the Jägermeister-besotted Sean, say — writes that he’s stumbling home, he is stumbling home, right then, and simultaneously apprising his friends via his mobile.

Personally, I don’t care for Facebook, at all, but I do enjoy reading status updates (from what few friends I have on there!). And as the Times piece suggests, Twitter is like the Facebook status feature, minus all the rest of Facebook’s crap (which is why I like Twitter).

The point of all this is to say that text, perhaps the most “boring” of all media interfaces, is actually experiencing a huge surge in attention and popularity these days. One would think, in our Internet-crazed, multimedia world, it might not be the case, and, indeed, last year, there was a lot of buzz about how video comments were making their way onto blogs, and how this would change the way people interacted in the blogosphere. As far as I can tell, though, they haven’t really taken off. At the time, I noted just how clumsy video comments are, and how much more fluid a text-based comment system is:

Part of the experience of participating in a blog’s community is this flow, a rhythm that develops as you read through the comments: you scroll past some, you read through the one’s from people you know, you find key words that catch your eye. Reading through text comments, frankly, is much quicker and “smoother” than clicking on video comments. The fact that it all happens inside your head has everything to do with why reading isn’t as jarring as the videos…

Obviously, a counter-argument can be made here by noting the preeminence of television viewership numbers, or the huge success of YouTube, but I do think that the text-based interface of Twitter cannot be ignored — it’s interesting just how compelling the simplicity of 140-character chunks of thought can be, and just how much real conversation and debate can take place in what may, at face value, seem like such a “limiting” media environment.

Why is this so? I’ll leave speculation on this for another post…but some quick thoughts would certainly have to include both the textual “art” of twitter (that is, it’s actually quite a challenge to come up with 140-character chunks of thought), as well as the kind of bodily, sensorial experience (an experience that Clive Thompson calls a “sixth sense“) that is created through Twitter’s media platform.


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