Friday, April 17, 2009

There Goes The Twitterhood

Well. It's official. Oprah Winfrey has formally joined us on Twitter. At the moment, you can go to and see just how many normal people (people like you and me who aren't as rich or famous as Oprah) are talking about it. From the time I started this post to now there are currently 509 new realtime results make that 519. ...uhm. I mean 534. My search twitter thing updates every ten seconds. ...551.

Over at a sweetheart named Leighann (whom I will probably find myself reading more than Oprah Winfrey's posts in the days to come) isn't taking this too well. She blames all this on Ashton Kutcher, who is another celebrity that is far more rich and famous than you or I will ever be. He recently stirred up a littls shitstorm of free publicity by announcing if he could get a million Tweeple to follow him at @aplusk before an allegedly popular @cnnbrk tweeter hit a million followers, Ashton would spend whatever money it took to save the third world of malaria by sending them mosquito nets. Yes that reads a little surreal to me too but presumably his heart's in the right place.

The thing is, having a million followers doesn't necessarily mean you have to follow a million people. So Mr. Kutcher is banking on the fact there are a million people on this planet who want to hear what he has to say, without being able to get him to hear what they have to say.

Leighann has a public message for Ashton Kutcher. "Let me tell you what is wrong with your plan for world domination," Leighann says very clearly and succinctly with no trace of irony, "Twitter is a two-way street."

Actually, it's not. It has this remarkable ability to grant the illusion of a two way street, but what we're all really doing in Twitter is shouting into a void, and if someone happens to choose to walk over to that void and listen for Tweets that may be of interest to them, then you get a possible two way connection going. However, then they have to choose to tweet back at you, and they have to know how to do that properly so that the convo can continue. Twitter's a new beast and not everyone's down with its complexities. The ignorance can make one think they're a part of the circuit when really they're not.

Let's take Oprah's first tweet for example. You can check this out for yourself over at but lemme save you the click. She said "HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY ." Now there's a number of glaring errors I can point out. The first one you probably see for yourself. She's typing in all caps. Apparently someone made her aware of the faux pas because her following tweets were all lower case.

Another error she made was referring to Tweeple as Twitters. It is currently acceptable to call those who use Twitter as either Tweeple or Tweeters, but Twitters would be multiple Twitter accounts, not the people using them. itself is ambivalent. It's a thing. It's a tool that is used by Tweeple.
It's the Tweeple that will respond to Oprah's presence in a spectrum of nonambivalent ways. See how that works? In order to keep from confusing ourselves, we can't refer to one another as Twitters. We're Tweeple, and Twitter is a separate entity.

A "Twitter" is a webpage on, like say for example That's one Twitter. Two twitters would be and (who is Wil Wheaton by the way). Two examples of Tweeters or Tweeple would be me and Wil Wheaton, because we both use Twitter and have Twitter accounts but aside from that we don't have a lot in common. I read his Tweets on occasion and I doubt he's ever read mine.

Another error Oprah made was not referring directly to the person or persons to whom she meant to convey her message. Now in this case, she can get away with it, because essentially she's talking to anyone who knows that she's taken this historic leap as a rich and famous person and placed her personage upon the ambivalence that is Twitter; because itself is, as I said before, ambivalent. This error she made in her first Tweet does not become evident until her second and third Tweets.

Oprah's second Tweet was entered thusly: "
hi jimmy order a reuben for me." Notice how quickly she's adapting by switching from upper case to lower case. Good for her! However, she is asking someone named Jimmy to order her a Reuben. This only works if 1) The Jimmy she is referring to is looking directly at her Tweets right now, and 2) he's within driving distance or has some way to remotely order a reuben sandwich and have it delivered to her door. Chances are this Jimmy she's referring to is like a producer or intern or someone under her employ, in which case shouting at him across the room asking for a reuben might have been more appropriate than if she sent a Tweet to the void anticipating he'd telepathically know she sent it.

A better way of producing that Tweet might have been "hi @jimmy order a reuben for me." but this would only work if @jimmy were actually and it's not. That Tweeter is Jimmy Naylor, a self-described "skinny" photographer living in London England who has better things to do with his time than go get Oprah Winfrey reuben sandwiches.

So, clearly, Oprah is shouting out into the Twitter void for purposes of the camera and the novely of it, but her actions reveal the truth; she has no intention of ever listening back. Nor does Ashton Kutcher. He has a million followers maybe, and hopefully he'll stay true to his promise and a lot of kids who could die from malaria in the future will now be saved thanks to the attention he's bringing to a serious problem in the third world. That's all well and good. Their hearts are in the right place.

However, they prove in their actions that Twitter is not a two way street. It's a void. You have to invest the time and resources to make it a two way street, and no one has the time or resources to invest in building a million two way streets in that virtual void. You can opt to shout at Oprah and Ashton all you want via new technologies. Please just don't lose sleep over the fact you won't get any shouts back, because they're not listening. Please don't take that personally. Not that I have any personal experience in this arena, but based on my research, I can say with confidence, being rich and famous is a full time job. Just ask Wil Wheaton. ...No wait. Don't. He doesn't promise to Tweet you back either.

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