“I am not a tool” – Twitter’s inflection of web and society.

Points of inflection.
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Update (090811-20:51ET): The end felt incomplete – some more detail added.

I’ve been getting some questions about how public micro-messaging is different than other social media. Why is it not just another tool?

While the flip answer of “well it’s public and micro and that’s the difference” is correct what is more elusive is how that is changing things – an inflection in the web – and society.

So let’s start with ‘micro’. Micro is about sms – the reach of sms means every mobile phone on the planet – or about 4 billion potential contributors. Being on a mobile phone also allows for real-time publishing from almost anywhere. Micro also makes it easy to publish – with the least time commitment or audience expectation of any form of publishing there is.

With public though we get to the real shift. When publishing a micro-message you’re publishing it to… well no-one and yet everyone as anyone can read it. This has been a big part of the rise of blogging effectively bridges the power of the web with the reach of mobile.

Together, these features then encourage a unique form of publishing that is:

  • spontaneous
  • interest-driven
  • succinct
  • frequent
  • anytime-anywhere.

As people publish through this medium they create an often uniquely authentic public expression of who they are, what they are doing and what they are interested in. To this we add the ability to reference another account, link, or topic in the public micro-message itself.

In the case of accounts, this allows for 1-1 conversation, in the case of topics it allows for many to many conversation, and in the case of links creates a dynamic layer of context around the link itself – a thread of free, interest driven public expression. In isolation these things are not so novel, but when we recognize them as a public collective we start seeing some new patterns emerging that point to a new use and form of the web.

These interconnected messages offer new interest-driven pathways for discovery that are constantly evolving. It’s a map of consciousness of sorts – based on spontaneous human interest. These pathways seamlessly weave between accounts, sites, and topics. While those new pathways are an easy invitation to get lost for some, they are definitely changing how public micro-messaging users experience the web. Some examples are:

  • primary source for notification of current events
  • primary source for new links of interest
  • channel for relevant new connections to people and initiatives
  • opportunities for new collaborations

Clearly this isn’t just a new tool.

It is instead:

  • a new multi-facted, layer of personal public expression
  • changing how we receive information
  • opening new pathways for discovery
  • lubricating trust and relationship

… which in turn is:

  • opening us up as individuals and society to the new and the now in ways we’ve never had
  • fostering new connections and collaboration
  • making the web more relevant to us than ever before.

And in the end it’s just  the most simple, human, public expression we have. Who would have thought there could be so much in so little?

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Remediating the web for action.

10mm graded crushed rock or aggregate, for use...
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We’ve become inundated with destinations, places to go, placess to post, places to read and place to make change… and the effort of aggregators seem largely only to have added another destination. And every destination seems to want us to have a conversation there. Well that’s not really working either because there are just too many places asking us for conversation.

Twitter however seems to be changing the game – for the first time enabling many to actually reduce the number of sources they monitor for information and the number of destinations they post at. And it’s also a universal place to have a conversation because the conversation doesn’t happen in a destination, it happens in public, wherever people happen to be.

Couple this with a movement to open data sets, like the Social Actions API, and I believe we are beginning to see a remediation of the great disintermediator that is the web.

Sticking with ‘social actions’ for a minute, here’s what I’d love to see.

  1. A data set of things I can do to make a positive social impact or help those trying to do the same. This is an aggregation of the stuff I can actually do on all these destinations.
  2. Associate every action with a micro-url that is branded to indicate it the url links to a social action. Urls are the universal element of the web. A branded url gives me an idea of what to expect is behind that link.
  3. When I click on a that micro-url take me to the source, and offer up the context I need to evaluate the action through a header bar in the page itself (like hootsuite etc.). What I want to know are things like what is being said about the link generally, by my friends, and what it is related to. Give me the context quickly but do it in a way that doesn’t take me away from the source.
  4. For the sources of actions, don’t make me have to come to your site to contribute to the discussion. Enable the discussion in the community (e.g. org, issue, and action related threads) and showcase that discussion on your site around the action or issue you are engaging on.

So for example, here’s what could have happened with #iranelections.

As the issue showed up, organizations for the whom the topic was mission relevant could have started tweeting, and spawned a widget on their site that displayed a filtered stream of #iranelection – posts from their prefered sources. If they wanted to spawn a related conversation they could then have created a new hashtag (or #iranelections.sub or !sub – or some other hash tag variant). If they had specific actions related to the cause they could have put them in the open data set and let them out in the #iranelection stream under a micro-url that is recognized as a social action link whether the organization was known or not. Someone following #iranelections could then have concentrated on actionable items coming through the stream, clicked on any that seemed interesting, and immediately been taken to where they can do something to make a difference with the context necessary to decide, quickly, if they wanted to take action.

Bottom-line, this would help surface actionable responses to any issue, make it easier for people to vet those actions on the fly, and increase speed and depth of actions taken on any issue. Interestingly, the pieces are mostly there, we just haven’t connected them. I love the idea of act.ly or do.gd as micro-urls for social action. SocialActions and more recently AllforGood have launched social action datasets and API’s. And finally some SocialActions developers have created some base code for a header bar. Even the engines to filter, embed, and even enable new hashtags exists and what doesn’t isn’t particularly hard to create.

If we got this right, I’d love to see how it could help things happen both in response to the crises that flare and the core issues that persist.

Think this would work? Have ideas to make it better? Doing something about it? Leave a note in comments. Maybe there’s a community out there that can stitch this together.

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