05 January 2009

On Becoming a Twit

In the last three years, I've written just under 4000 blog posts. You might think that is more than enough, but for some time I have been conscious that I don't always blog everything I could or even want to. Often, I've multiple Firefox tabs sitting there holding juicy items that I think deserve passing on; and yet I never get around to writing about them. I've been pondering why that is, and what I can do about it.

I think it comes down to two things. First, it takes a certain minimum amount of time to craft even the simplest blog posting: sometimes I just don't have the spare minutes/spare brain cycles to do that. Often, though, there is very little to say about the item in question - no profound comment is required beyond "take butcher's at this". What I really need, I realised, is a lightweight way of passing on such stories quickly.

Enter Twitter.

One of the interesting trends over the last year has been the steady rise of Twitter. Increasingly, I am finding bloggers that I read referring to stuff they find via Twitter, or to conversations conducted there. Clearly this can be a very powerful medium, if used in the right way. I've always been sceptical about the idea of twittering about every mundane detail of your life, but using it as a kind of micro-blogging tool is an attractive solution to the problems I've been experiencing.

As a result, I've started using Twitter at twitter.com/glynmoody; updates aren't protected, so anyone can follow. Note that I won't generally be posting links to blog posts there, unless there's a particular reason for doing so. In part, that's because the info is meant to be complementary. But it's also because some kind soul (whose name escapes me, to my shame - please get in touch if you want your name up in lights - now revealed to be one Jonny Dover, to whom many thanks) has set up a separate Twitter feed for opendotdotdot (which also includes pointers to my other posts on Open Enterprise and Linux Journal) at twitter.com/opendotdotdot. This means that you can choose whether to follow just the longer-form stuff, or the new, reduced-fat posts, or - for masochists only - both.

A few early observations on the medium.

First, one of the reasons I have held off from Twitter is that its parsimonious format forces you to use a URL shortening service, the best known of which is TinyURL.com. I have inveighed against these several times, largely because of the fact that they obscure the inherently linky nature of the Web. Fortunately, things have moved on somewhat: you can now provide users of the shortened URL with a preview. This means that (a) they can see that structure and (b) they can be slightly more sure you are not dumping them on some manifestly infected site.

Although TinyURL offers this service, I've plumped instead for is.gd, partly because it uses considerably fewer characters than TinyURL.com, partly because it has a shorter preview feature (you just add a hyphen to the end of shortened URL), and partly because it uses buckets of open source:

is.gd runs on the CentOS operating system. The most major pieces of software used are Lighttpd (web server), PHP (scripting) and MySQL (database).

CentOS:

is an Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.) CentOS is free.

The coy "prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor" is Red Hat, in case you were wondering.

The other aspect that has already struck me, after just a few days of using Twitter, is how you find people to follow. For me, at least, it's very similar to how I find blogs: I come across links to new ones in the blogs that I currently read. Similarly, I've found that a good way to find people who may be of interest is to look at whom the people I am following are following themselves. This leads to pools of people who tend to be reading and responding to each other - a micro-community at best, another echo chamber at worst.

I've also made up a few rough and ready rules: no news feeds (I want real people, their opinions and their daily lives - isn't that partly the point of Twitter?) and nobody who can't be bothered posting on a fairly regular basis. I've also avoided most of the Twitter super-stars (you know who you are) as a matter of principle: I don't really want to follow people who are almost totally famous for being famous on Twitter, for the same reason that I read relatively few of the A-list blogs.

Blogging has evolved considerably over the last few years, and I expect both it and Twitter to continue to do so - for example, in terms of them working together, fulfilling different functions (along with email, which completes the trinity of one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many interactions online). I've already found that I enjoy blogging more: I no longer feel obliged to blog about everything of interest, since I can push some stuff straight out on Twitter.

Part of the fun of blogging and twittering comes from participating in this huge, collaborative experiment in open writing and open thinking; this means that your comments/tweets on any of the above are even more welcome than usual.

14 comments:

Jonathan Gray said...

You might also be interested in identi.ca, a microblogging platform, and ur1.ca, a URL shrinking service. Both are compliant with the Open Software Service Definition (OSSD). For more background see this blog post from last July. There are many users from the free/open source software community. We're on it at http://identi.ca/okfn!

glyn moody said...

Many thanks - I'll take a look at them.

plh said...

I've been using metamark.net for URL shortening but is.gd looks good. Most importantly it has an API so I can easily get it to work with Emacs. Thanks Glyn.

glyn moody said...

Pleasure. It's interesting seeing which shortening services are used on Twitter.

Roy Schestowitz said...

I'm in. Good stuff.

glyn moody said...

Great.

Roy Schestowitz said...

That news from Brazil is worth writing about in English so that I can link to it. :-)

Uniqueness of reports counts.

glyn moody said...

@Roy, do you mean the lockdown one?

zaine_ridling said...

I love it!

The whole twitter/micro-blogging idea mimics the long established tradition in sports writing, where a columnist will comment one paragraph or less on as many as a dozen topics during the day. They're collected and usually prefaced by a header that reads: Reading time: 4 minutes, or some such.

Twitter's an invaluable vent. I have a comment or opinion on this, but not enough to blog about it right now.

glyn moody said...

@zaine - interesting comparison.

Roy Schestowitz said...

Yes, that one.

glyn moody said...

Alas, I just don't have time - too much to blog about.

And you know what Heraclitus said about stepping in the same river twice....

Peter said...

Looking forward to reading your tweets, Glyn.

@roy Are you on twitter? If so, what's your handle?

glyn moody said...

@Peter: me too - if you let me....