Pear Analytics has recently released a report that claims that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble”. This study is reviewed here by Mashable who cite this as not being “favourable to those of us with lofty views of Twitter.”
How disappointing. Only 40 per cent? I would have hoped for rather more. How disappointing also that Mashable chooses to take the view (along with Pear Analytics) that Twitter’s value and importance lies only when “something more intellectual is going on” rather than in tweets that fall into “I’m eating a sandwich now category”.
The whole point of Twitter is that it is nonsense – connected nonsense – and this makes it a whole different form of nonsense from the nonsense that has gone before. The “I am eating a sandwich now” tweet is, in essence, no different from the “I am watching a plane crash land on the Hudson River” tweet. The relevance of both of those tweets is not determined in advance by the tweeter, but by the way in which that tweet establishes its context through connection with other tweets and bits of digital information that relate to the subject (or conversation) it deals with. In the case of sandwich eating, that context is probably quite restricted and the level of connection pretty small. In the case of plane crashes – its probably pretty big.
There is no point in looking at Twitter the way we looked at traditional media and attaching a value to it based on its ability to restrict itself to information whose relevance is determined by mass interest.
Take Albert Einstein for example. I am sure that 40% of what came out of his mouth would fall into Pear’s mindless babble category. We didn’t either dismiss him or demand the restriction of his verbal output to “lofty” pronouncements on space and time. Einstein could talk about what he had for lunch without us thinking any the lesser of him. Of course, if he had written a scientific paper on it we might have thought it a little strange, but that is because in the old world influence or relevance was determined by place, not space. So when Einstein had something he wanted to say to the community of physicists he said it in a place where all those physicists were gathered (a publication or conference). Nowardays we use the same place (or tool such as Twitter) to say everything and influence or relevance is determined by the spaces (conversations) into which our utterances get drawn. These may be very big conversations or they may be very small conversations. It matters not which.
Take also your head. The individual fragments of information that sit on your mental shelves, when viewed collectively, would present a pretty good picture of pointless babble. This same information, when viewed connectedly, constitutes intelligence.
It is a shame that people who should know better (i.e. Mashable) still don’t appear to have a real understanding of why social media is different and can only view it through the lens of what has gone before.