From the outsider's perspective, Twitter may seem like little more than a glorified message board for narcissists and text-message devotees. There seems to be much confusion about what "tweeting" actually accomplishes. When several of us made the magazine rounds last week in New York, most of the editors actually recommended Twitter as a promotional tool. I've seen news outlets post tweets for every online story, while many of my friends simply use Twitter to announce that they're performing mundane tasks like eating pancakes or staring at the wall.* All of these people are twittering incorrectly.
We spent a portion of our issues class this afternoon dismissing these social networks as a waste of time, suitable only for those with the shortest of attention spans. However, whereas message boards and bottom-of-the-page comments often fail to spark dialogue, I have seen a few rare examples of Twitter community building that give me hope for its future. Most notably would be "The Media is Dying" (TMiD).
Just as the name implies, this feed covers the shrinking job market for journalists; magazine and newspaper layoffs; and other depressing developments. Rather than filtering through all of the various print and broadcast productions, TMiD relies on its subscribers to send in links, which moderators then post to its front page.
This approach is successful for a few reasons. First, tips are vetted to ensure accuracy, so TMiD has a bit more authority than the average blog. Subscribers' voices are heard, rather than getting lost in the vast blogosphere. And though the 140-character limit may frustrate casual readers, those that stick around will see that the multiple posts a day eventually add up to something more complete than you might see in a local paper. The links are there for readers who have the time to look at stories individually.
Of course, TMiD is the exception, and much of the Twitter chatter is pure hype. But at the same time, I hope that my peers at least try to imagine possibilities beyond the typical "I'm sitting in traffic LOL" posts. I'd be surprised if we don't see more niche news aggregators and similar projects down the road.
*These are legitimate examples.