Monday, December 29, 2008

A Twitter Soap-Opera Emerges. How Fun Is This?!

If you're looking for an interesting piece of gossip as a conversation-starter at your upcoming New Year's Eve party, here is some amusing drama that's unfolding in the blogosphere.

As Michael Arrington has chronicled, a row has erupted over whether Twitter should have a certain type of search filter. Right now, everyone's messages on Twitter are treated in exactly the same way. If I post a message, it appears in a list to all of my followers on their home pages, and on those pages, my message is just as visible as anyone else's that they're following – no more, no less. Some people believe Twitter has become the most popular microblogging service specifically because of this type of egalitarian treatment.

So anyway, the big stink began two nights ago when a blogger named Loic Le Meur made a seemingly innocent request “to filter results by the number of followers a user has”. To some people like Arrington, this made perfect sense as a way to know “which voices are louder and making a bigger impact”.

But others were enraged at the mere suggestion. In their minds, filtering according to the number of followers broke with the sacred egalitarian view among Twitter's most cult-like devotees. They soon commented on all of the reasons why it was a horrendous idea, and Sarah Lacy even called out Le Meur by proclaiming that “No one could be this nakedly egotistical and self-serving.”

That was Act One in the drama. Act Two then consisted of Arrington labeling such rhetoric as “vitriol” and telling those people to “get it together”. Well, calling these people, – some of whom are among the most prominent bloggers out there, – essentially, overreacting lunatics, didn't go over too well either. We're now in Act Three where those bloggers are responding harshly back at Arrington. For example, Robert Scoble this morning has a new post titled, “Thanks Mike Arrington for Taking Us Off the Rails Into Twitter Idiot Land”.

Is this fantastic stuff or what?

Most of you probably couldn't care less about the merits of specific filters on Twitter... which is partly what should make this so amusing. It's like a group of Star Trek fanatics getting into a fist fight over the type of phaser being used in Episode 37. People watching the fight don't even really get what it's about, and that makes the ultra-seriousness of the fighters seem that much more comical.

For the record, I also think that Le Meur's filter idea is a bad one. Just so everyone understands, it would be like giving priority in your Facebook feed to the status messages of those of your “friends” who have more followers than others. But too much of the Web already favors popularity, whether through Google's search algorithms or Technorati's authority rankings, rather than the quality of content. Especially in our online social-networks, we often prefer to hear from everyone in a way in which their voices all share the same volume.

With all of that said, however, Arrington was totally right in reminding us that even if such a filter on Twitter were to be created, it would be optional anyway! This really is a nasty fight over nothing of any importance. And despite his message to “get it together” being the right one, all Arrington did was join the fray.


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