What “Tweet” Needs to Become: To Share a Moment

Last week was big for Twitter. After years of speculation about whether the company was going to have a business model, Twitter announced two deals at our Web2 conference – first with Microsoft's Bing, and second with Google. Details of the deals were not disclosed, but as Google's Marissa…

The Twitter Moment.png

Last week was big for Twitter. After years of speculation about whether the company was going to have a business model, Twitter announced two deals at our Web2 conference – first with Microsoft’s Bing, and second with Google. Details of the deals were not disclosed, but as Google’s Marissa Mayers admitted onstage, there were indeed financial terms.  

What those terms might be strike me as secondary to the fact the deals got done in the first place. Sure, they probably consist of some combination of data services fees and revenue sharing, but the fact remains that monetizing a real time search result remains an elusive art, and one that honestly, Twitter does not want to cede to either Google or Microsoft. So while the two battling search giants may toss a not-insignificant amount of Adwords or AdCenter revenue into Twitters’ coffers, what really matters is the the traffic these deals potentially represent, and the validation of Twitter’s role in the real time universe. That, I’d argue, is priceless.

Now, did Microsoft and Google do these deals simply to lay claim to a hot new service, or were their actions driven by the time-honored principle of “embrace and extend”? More on that in a future post, because I think the question begs consideration in light of where the culture of search and communication is headed.

The fact that both giants have validated Twitter’s role in search led me to reflect on the role that Twitter plays in our culture. “To Tweet” is a verb in the process of becoming – not unlike “To Google” in 2002-3, or “to Xerox” in the 1960s. So what does “tweet” mean, really? Or perhaps more to the point, what *should* it mean?

At the moment, “to tweet” means something along the lines of “to broadcast a thought, in real time, using 140 characters of text or less.” And while confining tweets to this creative box has been seminal to the service’s early success, I’d argue that continuing to do so will most likely consign Twitter to the status of a verbal footnote in our ongoing cultural conversation.

What I’m struggling to say is that definitions matter. Words matter. My anthropological spidey senses are tingling right now, because we’re in a cultural moment where we are redefining how we share a moment. Facebook knows this. Google and Microsoft know it as well. And we all know it – explicitly or implicitly, as a culture we are learning to share our moments in real time, irrespective of geography or traditional social boundaries.

So allow me to suggest what I believe the definition of the verb “to tweet” should become: “To share a moment.”

In other words, to truly scale, “Tweet” – the verb-in-process-of-becoming, or, alternatively, the verb-that-could-have-been-but-became-instead-a-footnote-in-history – needs to be defined by more than 140 characters of text.

If you abstract what we’re really trying to do with the creative box Twitter has imposed upon us, it’s this: We want to share a meaningful moment in time. Sure, we don’t all manage to do that so well, but I think the essence of what we’re trying to do – “share,” “meaningful,” and “moment” – can easily be abstracted from the creative box in which Twitter is currently confined.

If you’ve used a tool like Brizzly, Power Twitter, or any of the many other services that unpack and contextualize your Twitter stream, it’s clear that a tweet is much more than text. It can be an image, a video, an overheard snippet of speech. In short, it’s a moment, captured, imbued with meaning, and shared.

As long as it remains those things, it’s a tweet. And as much as I love the SMS-inspired roots of Twitter’s origin, it’s time for the service to branch out and embrace its essence, and not get stuck in its own creation myth. If it fails to do so, I think any number of its competitors – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or an unborn startup – will recognize and exploit that failure.

So live in the moment, Twitter, and move outside the text box.

PS – I think the same applies to the interface of search – breaking out of keyboard-driven text and more into a conversational interface. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the coming months, as I think it’s starting to come together in my head – “The Moment” is a good organizing principle for where I believe things are going in search, culture, technology.

14 thoughts on “What “Tweet” Needs to Become: To Share a Moment”

  1. I think “to share a thought” would be better than “to share a moment”. The tweet will still be there long after the moment is gone. We can revisit the thought just as we revisit the tweet.

  2. Totally agree with you that it’s time for Twitter to start branching out from the 140-character, text-only format. If they want to be truly useful for a mainstream population, and an integral component of how people communicate with each other and “share moments,” the current experience just isn’t compelling enough. Images seem like such an obvious feature to build into the feed – people won’t put up with the Twitpic / yfrog model forever.

    Twitter is simple, yet ironically still too cumbersome for most people to understand and use effectively – otherwise the “I don’t care that you’re eating a sandwich” perception of its value wouldn’t still be so prevalent. Even for a devoted Twitter fan like me, who can see it’s value and potential, the novelty is wearing off quickly.

  3. Damn! Your definition is so apt. 😀
    My friends have been making fun of me for over a year for using Twitter, their favourite arguments being “it’s egotistical,” and “it’s just like Facebook, but not as fun.”

    I always wondered why they didn’t get it. I suppose that I instantly ‘got it’ because I have friends who live far away from me. Facebook is an activity, something I can spend hours browsing, but Twitter is something I check periodically for 5 minutes at a time. My friends’ tweets are the kinds of things they’d say to me if we were together at the time. Nothing until Twitter has made it feel so easy to ‘share a moment’ with my best friend, who lives in another country.

  4. Digging your spidey sense, John.

    I think it flows from the journalist in you and, combined with your unique vantage point, gives us actual peeks at how things are materializing.

    And I’ve gained confidence in it as you’ve talked about trends and services like Aardvark.

    What I love about this post is that, as a reader, you can feel all of the ideas and energy from the Web 2 summit consolidating in you with the benefit of that spidey sense.

    So, it has me thinking – reflecting, which is now a category of thought reserved only for what might be highly relevant – about the significance of Twitter’s deals, and, more importantly, the tweet as a shared moment imbued with meaning.

  5. John, You’ve nailed the transitory, immediate and time-stamped nature of the tweet. What’s additionally interesting is how people are pushing their tweet experience with varied apps/sites to enrich the moments shared and provide context.

    It would be really cool to see how the massive amount of date that flows through twitter could be used to further build out thisMoment.com (http://www.thismoment.com/) and be linked with something like FourSquare (http://foursquare.com/) to add greater dimension.

  6. Web 2.0 technology passed with microsoft bing simple designs, but google still continues. This is why I am not understand. Has quite a successful design team.

  7. John,

    Great points about defining Twitter, and what Twitter really means/signifies. I do think it’s important to define it (as I mentioned here: http://bit.ly/6AUVi) so that we can understand how it fits into our behavior, how we’re using it, and it can be used in the future.

    While I agree with some of the commenters’ points, I think “to share a moment” works well here. Yes, you CAN go back to a tweet if you want, but the important thing is that the act of tweeting on the part of users is in fact an “in the moment” thing, regardless of what people search for in the “post moment.” In other words, the search portion of tweeting, for the most part, is after the fact and isn’t part of the tweeting process (that’s almost what makes it so valuable, because it’s almost entirely untainted data on what’s happening in the moment).


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