It all makes sense when you learn that Twitter's CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey spent 15 years writing dispatch software for couriers, taxis and 911.
Jack's concept of "ambient social awareness" is derived from the crackling sounds of voices, coming from two-way radios, saying what patient is going to which hospital, or which passenger needs a pick-up at what location. "You have all these people roaming about a metropolis, constantly reporting on what they're doing," Jack said to me, in a recent interview. "I just found this fascinating because you get this beautiful picture of what's going on in the city."
In this interview (No. 3 of a series with Jack), we focus on how Twitter is changing the way we interact and communicate. I'm not sure Twitter feeds produce a lovely mosaic, as Jack thinks. My Twitter feed looks more like a cacophony of voices. But nonetheless, it's a picture of what's going on with people I'm following. It's my metropolis. Today, I found out that Jack was buying an electric toothbrush, my friend Graham Glass was waiting for furniture to be delivered, while venture capitalist Josh Koppelman was wondering what NBC would do now that Olympic Gold medalist, Michael Phelps, was done swimming.
As Jack put its: "Twitter has become a personal news wire."
(Note: Look below for my other interviews with Jack)
Are you there? I'm here.
Your personal news wire in 140 characters or fewer. Hmm. Is it genuine communication or a personal tabloid? If nobody is snapping pictures of those who Twitter upon walking out of a Hollywood coffee shop does it still count if they post a tweet?
Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Everyone wants to feel like they're not alone. I'm sure there are moments when posting updates, the words from Pink Floyd come to mind. "Hello. Hello. Hello. Is there anybody out there."
And, this is the beauty of Twitter. The rich tapestry of interwoven storylines comes into view when the millions of seemingly disparate updates are brought together.
These moments are called "massively shared experiences," according to Jack. For instance, when people feel a rumble, a bump or a shake in San Francisco, they update those occurrences. When it persists, said Jack, "gossip becomes fact." This may sound sobering, but on 9/11, I received an instant message from my father, saying, "My heart just sank." He was looking outside his living room window as the planes hit the tower. When I watch the Twitter streams, I wonder what it would have been like if Twitter were around then.
Is Twitter a social network?
Are you a social network? I asked. Jack says "no," though his definition of Twitter and a social network makes it sound like in fact, Twitter is. According to Jack, a social network helps you filter down to your network, or people you're interested in. Twitter lets you follow people in your social network.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Jack thinks Twitter is all you need from a social network, while not exactly being one.
I'll leave the semantics aside. According to Jack, Twitter is a "communication utility," focused on the concepts of "status" and "update." The updates, and the ability to search them through Surmise, expose "trends."
The one thing about not being a social network is the ability to circumvent liability. Twitter considers itself as just the conduit, a service and platform carrying the message, much like AT&T. In other words, while social networks, like Facebook, have to set up community laws, so to speak, Twitter says: Don't shoot the messenger.
More needles per haystack
The most interesting part of the conversation was when Jack discussed how he saw Twitter changing the search paradigm and how he saw people using Twitter's search engine next year.
Because the updates are constrained to the 140-character, each word has a lot of weight and meaning, he said. It's like a "keyword." Additionally, Jack thinks that next year people will be looking for answers to questions. A lot of people who have 10k followers would only have to ask their audience a question, such as, "Should I buy the Nokia phone?" They'd instantly get tons of answers. "When you have that ability, it feels like a super power," said Jack.
"I'm a big believer in creativity through constraint," he goes on to say. "When you limit the canvas size you get more creative. A lot of creativity comes through hard times and constrained times. It makes you strive to be your best."
Jack's building a needle factory.
(Note: This interview is part of a series looking at online behavior and how technology is changing the way we socialize and communicate. In this series, I've also covered Slide and Mozes. Those interviews are below.)