Twitter as the new agora

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, gave an excellent lecture last month at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. His theme was the way Twitter thinks about itself internally and the ways in which Twitter is interacting with and impacting on modern broadcast technologies. It is a clear lecture, wide-ranging and suggestive, with some good jokes (in his early career Costolo was a standup comedian).

Costolo starts with an historical analogy, comparing Twitter to the Greek agora. The agora being the piazza or town square in which all the citizens of ancient Greek city states would daily meet to discuss events, politics and gossip. The agora was multi-directional (anyone not disadvantaged could join in), it was unfiltered  (again we overlook the exclusion of women, foreigners and slaves),  and it was realtime. It was a great way of exchanging news quickly, informally, and cheaply. There were problems: the reach was limited to earshot, the system did not scale, the noise to signal ratio was a problem, there was a clear lack of record; rumour and distortion was rife etc…. Then a few centuries later we had printing, and in the twentieth century various forms of mass media broadcasting. When we lost intimacy and spontaneity but gained reach, reliable distribution and control.

Twitter brings the agora back in a grand way as part of the ‘global village’ as a realtime back-channel for communication and engagement which subverts conventional barriers of control and separation. Costolo makes much of the way in which Twitter enables direct communication between stars and their audience, and he has a particularly good Twitter joke featuring the hip-hop artist Drake and T Boone Pickens the Texan billionaire.

Costolo moves his talk towards the ‘sales pitch’ with some current and persuasive examples of the way in which Twitter is now being used by broadcast media and major consumer brands to re-inforce the show and engage the audience, pulling the agora into the powerful networks of broadcast media makes Twitter an ‘amazing complement to broadcast media’. So mass media are not only global in its reach and distribution, they also become responsive and intimate. His clearest demo is of the way the X Factor has used Twitter hashtags and audience participation on screen. Of course this renewed intimacy and potential for global democratic response is not limited to TV and other broadcast media. It is also happening with print, especially as print migrates to digital. Newspapers and journalists have been very quick to see the potential for Twitter in news gathering especially in crisis and unpredictable events. But Twitter also goes beyond the newsdesk and becomes a vehicle for dialogue and feedback when the publication and its audience is digital and socially aware

Exact Editions apps are now socially aware, and users can email or tweet pages from the newest versions of our apps (there will be a complete rollout in the next few weeks). The Exact Editions apps know which page a tweet is coming from, and which issue. This is the kind of signposting that helps with community engagement. Dazed & Confused as it happens has a massive and visually stunning archive, so lots of scope for shocking and stylish snaps for Twitter and Facebook (or Weibo if you happen to be on that). The next step will be to figure out how to insert tweets into pages or dialogue with pages and stories in a coherent way. It will not be obvious!

Dazed tweet

tweeting Dazed

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