Does Twitter Have a Tempo?

23Jun10

There are people that look into their Twitter message a couple of times a week or less, and those who do so a multiple times a day. Some monitor Twitter more or less constantly – possibly with a sidebar application. Is Twitter the same to these different users? In this short post I argue it is not, and I wonder to what extend different Twitter tempi are sustainable.

Some celebrate Twitter for enabling to keep in touch with distant relatives by sharing mundane information (sometimes referred to as Ambient Intimacy). Others scorn it for the same reason, pointing to oversharing (of celebrities). I believe this difference in perception has a lot to do with the frequency with which you use Twitter. Pragmatic language theorists such as Herbert Clark and Harry Bunt have emphasized that, in conversation, each utterance sets a conversational context for the next, allowing us to coordinate meaning and understanding. The meaning of a sentence does not stand on its own, but depends on the conversational context in which it is said. In turn each sentence creates new conversational context. Translated to Twitter this means that your uptake of a tweet depends a lot on the extent to which you have been following and understanding that persons earlier tweets. If I tweet I am drinking coffee in this or that café, this has no meaning to an outsider. But for those who know I arrived there after a long hike in the woods it means much more. My point is that the more you engage with Twitter, the more you appreciate the mundane information others may be sending. When Esquire asserts that Twitter has nothing to add to the experience of the world cup, they miss the point and, above all, show not to be frequent Twitter users that follow the world cup trough this channel themselves.

More frequent users tend to be more enthusiastic about Twitter. So does Twitter invite frequent use? I guess that depends in part on who you are following, and how many people you follow. I would expect you try to keep up with the conversational context setting of your Twitter group, partly by picking people that tweet in a tempo that you like, partly by adjusting your use to the tempo of your group. Still, since Twitter is a networked medium the networked groups influence each other as well. Moreover, if the tempo is determined by conversational context setting, the character limit constraints of Twitter may encourage a certain tempo. It might be that because of the constraints of the messaging system and the networkedness of it, the medium might have an intrinsic tempo that we all converge to. Or it might be that twitter is so flexible in its use that it allows for different sustainable tempi to coexist together. Nobody forces us to use Twitter for mundane information, it could be used for world changing events only. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

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4 Responses to “Does Twitter Have a Tempo?”


  1. 1 Social News Needs a Nuanced ‘Like’, Quickly « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
  2. 2 A case for Privacy Coordination « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
  3. 3 Recipient Responsibility in Netiquette « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog
  4. 4 Reading Dhiraj Murthy’s Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age « @koenvanturnhout MacroBlog

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