“But What is Twitter (or Whatever) For?”

I don’t seem to be following anyone who uses Twitter to alert me to their choice of breakfast cereal.

Well, one guy, one time. But he tried to make a persuasive case for its relevance, and he included an acknowledgment that he was embodying a cliché. All in 140 characters or less, mind you. Mostly, the people I follow are tearing off tweets on biblical studies, on Bible software, on trends in higher education or in the social web, on typography, on events in Uptown Evanston Illinois, on languages and linguistics, and on web shows in which Joss Whedon is involved.

I bring this up because whenever somebody raises the question of What Twitter Is For, we get the obligatory assertion that Twitter Is For Telling People What You’re Eating. (Or that Other Thing. You know.)

Here, slightly edited and reformatted, is a comment I made ’way long ago over at Bryan’s:

If Twitter has taught us anything (a premise I know some would question), it is:

  1. First make something possible (“Hey look, Twitter.”).
  2. Then we’ll see what sort of nonsense people do with that thing (“Hey look, I’m sitting on the john I’m eating breakfast cereal”).
  3. Then we’ll see what creative people really do with it once they get going! (“Hey look, I’ve been detained without charge.” “Hey look, a secret earthquake in China.” “…a revolution in Iran.” “…a TED talk relating unexpectedly to my field of study.”).”

My point is that even Twitter’s creators didn’t know what Twitter is for. Rather, that has been (and continues to be) decided by each user, in her own decisions about use if she decides to dink around with the thing.

(If you do decide to see what anyone in education is doing with Twitter, there is some stuff to see once you look.)

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