Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why We Web, Part I: Communications

Alexander_Graham_BellI’ve been on the hunt for a new AIM client lately.  I’ve been using Trillian for a while, but the program is such an incredible resource hog that I simply don’t have the patience for it anymore.  On my laptop, which happens to be a Mac, I run a wonderful program called Adium.  Adium is, by far, the most efficient messenger I’ve ever used.  It has a genuine “no-bullshit” feature set and interface.  I get chat logs, tabbed IM’s, no ads, and best of all, it’s free!  I have yet to find such a client for windows.  I tried Pidgin (formerly Gaim) but the program couldn’t recall window positions or sizing properly which made it a huge hassle to use.  I finally came across a new client called Ahoihoi, which is made by a company Versoworks who used to be responsible for an AIM add-on called Messenger:Mate (of which I was a paying user).

The program is still in it’s infancy, but I found it rather amusing that the program would be named “Ahoihoi”, a term coined by Alexander Graham Bell, purported father of the telephone.  Back in Bell’s time, the idea of broad communication was only first being realized.  In modern times its only optimized, per se.  It’s interesting to see why after so many years of success, the telephone is being weaned out of society in favor of a near endless slew of “alternative mediums” for broad, global, person to person communications.


My current favorite platform is Twitter.  Twitter, is described as a “micro-blogging service” that allows users to post short messages of 140 characters or less from virtually any input medium, be it instant messages, SMS, handheld devices, or the nearly endless supply of widgets, desktop apps, and browser extensions available.  Twitter posts on their site that, “[Twitter is] A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: ‘What are you doing?’” and the site is pretty much, just that.  A slew of seemingly inane messages detailing the trite highs and lows of a person’s day.  I speak with a seemingly cynical tone, but as I mentioned it’s my current favorite, and if you look over on the right side of this site, you’ll see I have my little Twitter badge informing you of my latest doings.

So what is the allure of this application?

I feel like the allure of such a tool is the impression it gives the user.  I watched an interview on C|Net where they interviewed Twitter’s founder and asked him the same question.  His response was interesting as he commented that “people are always looking for yet another way to stay connected with each other…”.  That’s a seemingly obvious response considering the levels on which people connect in the modern world.  From weblogs, social-networking sites, cell phones, text messages, e-mail, etc. it’s clear to see that people, for the most part, like being connected to each other.  There’s a comfort, a security, to that knowledge that someone, somewhere, is listening to you; is connected to you as well.  The question then becomes, not why use Twitter, but why use Twitter?  Of all the “instant” methods of mass communication one has available to them (again: weblogs, social-networks, cell phones, text messages, instant messages, etc.) why would someone use Twitter?  I can’t seem to reconcile this one with anything logical, the only thing that crosses my mind is, “it’s fun.”  And that suits me.

However, if I had to fathom a guess as to it’s mass-appeal, I would have to bring up a few of the neat things I’ve seen done with Twitter.  A the 2007 South by Southwest festival, Twitter won the “Web Award” in the blog category.  Twitter had set up a large screen on the convention floor which showed small pop-ups of real time posts (what they refer to as “Tweets”) from Tweeters (Twitter users) at the convention.  This provided guests with a sort-of “real-time pulse” of the convention floor.  Messages saying someone was going over to a particular booth, or what someone may have thought of a performance, other guests were able to make a quick stop as they roamed the halls to get a sense for what was going on at that moment elsewhere on the premises.  Impressive, I must say.  In context, I can definitely see the purpose of this application, but in the simple form of what they dub “The Public Timeline” where every single Tweet is shown in sequence, I fail to see a point.  I can only describe this sequence as chaotic; a true manifestation of anarchy.  One might say Twitter has removed a barricade on a social-construct-cage that has kept this impulse to “Tweet” suppressed until now.

One might say that this impulse was easily satisfied by the weblog (I will NOT call it a “blog”), and for the most part they are correct.  However, as you can see from this journal, I like to write about [what I think] are a topics with some depth, worthy of discussion.  This seems to be a growing trend, especially now with Twitter’s rise in popularity.  People can exhaust their petty thoughts and daily going-on’s with their Twitter accounts, and their weblogs are reserved for more drawn out matters.  This isn’t to say that this will improve the content of these online diaries, as being able to whine about how “Jenny is such a bitch” in real-time can be done in 140 characters or less, explaining in graphic detail why Jenny is such a bitch, cannot.

This is, but one of the many new ways which we communicate.  We create, as I’ve said previously, an online repository of our society.  We are logging our movements, our thoughts, or insights, and our ideas for some unstated purpose.  That purpose, is why we web.

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