A number of recent twitterstorms (#trafigura, #janmoir etc) have once again raised the issue, at least in the space that is occupied by the traditional media, of what is the role / point / whateverness of Twitter. This Guardian article neatly sums up much of the argument to date.
Here is an explanation that no-one has yet proposed. Twitter is the third wave of digital media – media that is defined not by a single act of publication, but by multiple acts of observation. It is a bit tricky to get your head around.
The first wave was when content was tied to a means of distribution (web site) and was therefore not revolutionary because it obeyed all the previous rules of publication (where the means of distribution shaped the content). The content was defined entirely by its place (of publication).
The second wave was where content was liberated from one distribution partner and free to become more promiscuous – putting itself about a bit between multiple digital places. So a bit of content could start of as a blog post, but also have within it a video that lives in YouTube, and be included as a link in a tweet, or be an update to a Facebook page etc. Content here was influenced by place of origin, but the influence of place was less.
The third wave is where content is completely separated from a means of distribution. This is what Twitter is – especially a Twitter tag. A twitter tag doesn’t exist in a particular place – it only exists through the act of search. Likewise – tweets as a whole are just “out there” in digital space.
The shift from place to space is the future of media / communication / content – we don’t even yet have a name for the type of stuff that will sit in this space. Within this space, content (or whatever we end up calling it) is defined not by the act of publication, but by the act of observation – and Twitter is the first example of a media / something that is defined as such.