Oct 24

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Twitter is low-expectation IRC

I've been spending more time on Twitter than I have reading blogs. It reminded me of the time in my mis-spent youth when I got lost in IRC, spending evenings heckling the TV with my IRC friends. This is the geek equivalent of being stoner, by the way, with roughly the same effect on cognition.

As I got older, I acquired kids and a mortgage. Work took the full-focus time that I had spent on IRC. IRC and I drifted apart. Periodically I'd log in and try to catch up with my friends, but it was like hooking up after breaking up—neither satisfying nor fully enjoyable.

Twitter, however, I can be much more casual with. If I am called away by kids, work, house, wife, school, or any of the other distractions in my life, Twitter doesn't care. Nobody gets offended if I don't respond immediately, nobody uses uppercase if I dare to leave the keyboard to stop the kids from fighting. It's a very loosely-coupled conversation.

There are bursts of tight-coupling when back-and-forths happen between people who are "on" at the same time, but they're the exception rather than the rule. For the most part it's a stream of thoughts, wisecracks, questions, answers, and updates that carry with them no commitment for me (the reader) to interact, return fire, comment, create, or update in return.

I love the liberation.

As the social software space matures (to the point where only oldbies like Matt Webb call it social software) I hope to see more projects like Twitter, playing with the dials to give us a familiar experience that's new in an unexpected dimension. Food for thought: is there low-expectation video chat? LJ Radio is very low-expectation audio chat.

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Comments: 12

  Alexander van Elsas [10.24.07 04:28 AM]

Hi Nat, I agree with you that the flow of thoughts that run through Twitter are good. It is like a river you tap into when you feel the need (but you don't have to). Still, human nature dictates us often that we want to be heard, that we can interact with each other. My best times on Twitter are always when I can respond to someone, or someone responds to me. The low expectations rule is still valid, but when you interact unexpectedly it's fun! If that doesn't happen, I become a groupie on Twitter, just following and not interacting:

  Jeff [10.24.07 06:59 AM]

"f I am called away by kids, work, house, wife, school, or any of the other distractions in my life,..."

Wow! I'm exactly the opposite! IRC, Twitter, blogs, mailing lists, computers are the "distractions" in my life.

I'm beginning to wonder if most of "radar" isn't geared toward selling more O'Reilly books and services... or maybe I should just have another glass of cool-aid.

  Chris Shiflett [10.24.07 09:08 AM]

Nat, I posted something similar last week, but I gave you credit for the idea. :-)

Jeff, I think Nat is using the word distraction exactly as it's defined, not with any negative connotation. The context of this post makes real life a distraction instead of the other way around. Don't try to read too much into it. :-)

  Deepak [10.24.07 10:37 AM]


Loic Le Meur's Seesmic, which is still in early alpha might be the video equivalent. It's got a public timeline, a friends timline and a 5 minute video limit. It even sends tweets as you might have noticed

  gnat [10.24.07 11:04 AM]

@Alexander: absolutely! Read-only would be (and is) no fun. I didn't mean to imply that at all.

@Jeff: sorry, my Kiwi understatement doesn't really come across in print. The important things in life are kids, wife, etc. Such things do take my attention from whatever I'm doing, and that's not meant in a negative way. They're high priority interrupts, and they're high priority for a reason!

@Chris: Feh! Serves me right for twittering before I post. I had to sit on this during Web 2.0 Week last week, or else it'd have been lost in the flood.

@Deepak: Oooh, thanks. I'll check it out.

  thomas scovell [10.24.07 03:39 PM]

just to claim prior art, my twitter from september 19: "/me just realised twitter is entirely like a big irc channel when you use "d" like /msg ... retro "


I'd be interested to see stats on usage of the direct messaging versus public. As well as being awfully useful for creating sms/im bots the direct messaging is great for device/presence neutral instant messaging.

(Unless you're on Telecom NZ as a cell provider in which case twitters all come through scrambled...)

  Sigurd Magnusson [10.24.07 06:02 PM]

I agree to a point, although I typically used IRC for getting and giving tech-support, which isn't twitter's aim.

  Julian Bond [10.25.07 03:20 AM]

Try and imagine an IRC channel that
- Was built from your friends and followers
- Had history so if you're offline for a bit you can catch up.
- But was more responsive than Twitter.

There's more work to be done here yet. And not least is an equivalent service to Twitter (or extra function inside Twitter) to do for "Where am I?" what Twitter has done for "What am I doing/thinking?".

  Marilyn Pratt [10.25.07 06:16 AM]

"Video Chats" - My colleague Craig Cmehil talks about that capability in Kyte TV but I imagine you mean taking it one step further and having the Skype effect of live video chats. Yet, Kyte gives us the ability to produce on the channel asychronously and like twitter, you don't have to get the IRC tremors if you go offline to continue your "first" life, you can continue with "low expectations" and catch-up at will.

  Pete [10.25.07 11:56 PM]


I still don't get Twitter. For those who are not interested in boosting self importance/ego Twitter simply is a waste of time.


Isn't Loic LeMeur's startup Seesmic (video Twitter!) just a copy of Twitter?

  Anon [10.28.07 01:01 PM]

> It's a very loosely-coupled conversation.

Or it's a one-way flow of detritus.

  Wesley Tanaka [11.02.07 02:14 PM]


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