Seriously, what is the point of Twitter?

Here’s a claim from Matt Yglesias that I’m totally unable to make sense of:

Western alphabets were ideally suited to the age of traditional industrial age printing—they make it easier to learn literacy skills and they’re great for typesetting. But in the coming era where everything is a Tweet or a Facebook status update, our primitive alphabets are leaving us restricted to the shortest and crudest of thoughts, while Chinese orthography allows for a much deeper range of expression.

As far as I can tell, the claim about Facebook is comletely untrue. Facebook is relatively liberal about how long you can make your status updates, and if you end up going over even that limit, the trick is to post the first part of the comment as a status update and the rest as a comment on your own status update (as far as I can tell, there’s no maximum length for comments on status updates).

Twitter is different, but I’m still not sure the claim about Twitter makes any sense. I assume that when Twitter was created, its creator(s) didn’t think “no matter what language we’re talking about, 140 characters is the idea length for a tweet.” They probably just thought “140 characters is about right,” without even thinking about languages other than English, or thinking about the fact that they weren’t thinking about languages other than English. If Chinese tweets really are superior to English tweets, it seems like we should raise the maximum allowed length for English tweets, rather than all switch to Chinese.

More broadly, what is the point of Twitter? A lot of bloggers seem to like it. In fact, the main reason I got a Twitter account in the first place was that all the cool bloggeres seemed to be doing it. Yet I rarely use it these days. Part of the reason is that I have many more Facebook friends than Twitter followers, so that if I have a brief message that I want a lot of people to see, I post it on Facebook first and then don’t post it on Twitter, because posting it there would only slightly increase the number of people who’d see it.

I’ve heard things like “Twitter is where all the conversations are happening these days,” but I don’t see any evidence of it, nor how it could even possibly be true. 140 characters is rarely sufficient for an intelligent response to anything. It gets in the way of basic functions like providing justification for your position, or explaining the nuances of it.

Granted, there is a place for pithiness. In fact there are some brilliant Twitter feeds out there, whose owners seem to have really mastered that art. But for all the writers who have merely average competence at pithiness, I really don’t see the point. Even though all the cool bloggers are doing it. But maybe someone in the comments will convince me to take up tweeting regularly?

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