My coworker Jeremiah Lee retweeted something interesting earlier tonight: The End of Big Twitter by Alan Jacobs. Jacobs quotes Frank Chimero’s From the Porch to the Street at length in his central thesis, and you should go read Chimero’s post so I don’t have to quote it again. But let me reformulate it less beautifully anyway: imagine a privacy score (or, rather, an intimacy score) where Twitter dot com ranked a 7 or 8 out of 10 during the first two years you used it. And now imagine, years later, it’s dragged to a 2 or 3 as your list of followers and followees filled more and more with strangers. What was once like a conversation with friends on your porch is now more like a bunch of people with megaphones in Times Square.
It doesn’t really have to take much imagination. I have friends who have all but abandoned their Twitter accounts because it’s not fun for them anymore: strangers hassle them about typos, argue with hyperbole, and respond to rhetorical questions. Others have migrated away from actual social engagement and into retweeting news articles; looking to inform (or convince) their followers of their viewpoint on the topic du jour. I’d by lying if I said I didn’t do a mix of these myself. But in short: Twitter stopped being a place for your nerd friends and started being a place for the public.
But where I disagree with Jacobs is that this change is necessarily a bad thing, or is a weakness in Twitter that future generations of social network will somehow solve. I’m not sure that’s true or possible. Moving yourself from the privacy and intimacy of Chimero’s porch to the bustle and loudness of the street is only a bad thing if you lose your porch in the process. But you can have it both ways: you can have a Street Twitter and a Porch Twitter and a Living Room Twitter and a Bedroom Twitter. You just have to have different accounts, and everything that isn’t for the Street needs to be marked private. You might remember we did the same thing with blogs back before Twitter was invented. And with, well, conversations since the dawn of human language.
I’ve discovered so many wonderfully interesting and challenging things over the years thanks to strangers on Twitter, things I would never have found if it were just an echo chamber of my social circle’s values. Its role in breaking news in unparalleled. It’s the pulse of the community, no matter what community it is you’re watching, and it’s not hard to stumble into new communities and discover viewpoints you disagree with. It’s a remarkable tool, and a remarkably flexible tool. I’ve been using it nearly 8 years, and I look forward to many more.