Twitter and the emerging medium for change -> “What are you doing?”

Twitter is giving rise to the most accessible, participatory public medium in history. The implications for social change, innovation, and entrepreneurship are huge but hardly explored. In the coming paragraphs I explain what I see and call out to you, to all, to help surface what’s happening and understand how it can help us create the world we want. I care because we need change like never before. If that matters to you too, please read, comment, and share. Let’s see where this goes.

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What’s going on with Twitter (now at over 32m users – up from just 1.6m a year ago) is the emergence of a new medium based on the public micro-message – the most accessible, participatory public medium in history.

Think about it. That’s huge.

It’s the potential for 4B people to post, read, and respond to each other. Neither TV, radio, telephone, email, or the web have the same potential in terms of accessibility and participation.

Enabled by its ‘micro’ (140 character) and ‘public’ attributes, the medium fosters a communications DNA that makes it a hotbed for interest-driven sharing, discovery, connections and spontaneous collaboration. Being micro, it is also SMS compatible making it work with the most distributed communication technology we have – the mobile phone.

Social change is about people, engagement, and systems. Already, examples in citizen journalism and fundraising demonstrate some of the unique potential for real-time communication and spontaneous collaboration.  #mumbai and #hudson, broke news and photos of the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the crash landing of a United Airlines flight on the hudson river well before any other media were able to report it. #daniela raised $16,000 for a needy family in less than a week.  And in less than 18 days, over a dozen people peer produced #hohoTO, a sold-out party for over 600 people that raised $25,000 and 2t of food for the Daily Bread Foodbank. Taking it further, reasearch is underway into how it Twitter changes how we respond to disasters and even politicians are embracing the transparency. If this is what be happening with 5, 10, 20 million users,  what’s possible when we’re dealing with 100m or a billion users around the world?

Is it utopia and the solution to all our problems? Of course not. But we are talking about a medium with core attributes that make it the more compatible with social change and innovation than any other. This is not about ‘tool or strategy’ this is about the birth of a medium – and its potential as a medium for change.

Already there are some great starts at the infrastructure (SMOB, FETHER,, rsscloud, etc), standards (TwitterData, MicroSyntax,etc.) and usage questions (Kanter, Bravo, Wikipedia, etc.). But we’re just starting to scratch the service. Getting to the roots of this and how we can use it to make change needs a focus on social change and a coordinated strategy. Key tracks for that are:

  • surfacing what’s already happening in terms of use, research, and potential for social change;
  • studying the impacts and implication of the medium on making change; and
  • encouraging systems and standards that optimize the medium for public benefit (more on that in my previous post).

So let’s get to it. This medium is here to stay and the potential for change making is profound. What have you seen? What do you think? “What are you doing?” Please do comment, share and let’s take this forward.

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