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Twitter as a machine for book invention

Dec 05, 2012

Twitter as a machine for book invention

@JoyceCarolOates is a great follow on Twitter—she’s funny and interesting—but you get the feeling from a few of her tweets that she still sees it as a waste of time, a distraction from the actual work of book writing, as many authors do. But for some of us, Twitter is where we first get our thoughts down. Twitter is our public notebook, the place where we think out loud, let other people think back at us, then hopefully think some more.

The thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to get the most out of them, and Twitter is like a notebook in which the more pages you fill, the more pages disappear. If you use it properly, your tweets are eventually lost to time. And this is part of what makes it so great, says Matt Haughey in his excellent essay, “Why I love Twitter and barely tolerate Facebook”:

There’s no memory at Twitter: everything is fleeting. Though that concept may seem daunting to some (archivists, I feel your pain), it also means the content in my feed is an endless stream of new information, either comments on what is happening right now or thoughts about the future.

Twitter, in Robin Sloan’s terms, is all flow and no stock: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.” Books, on the other hand, are stock: “Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years?) as it is today.”

In my experience, stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon flow. You gather your bits, combine them, and then turn them into something new. But this process requires being able to get at your flow. There are various 3rd-party ways to backup your tweets, but there isn’t yet a way to access it through the official Twitter interface. Twitter’s CEO says you’ll be able to download your archive by the end of the year, but I wouldn’t hold your breath…

Filed under: Twitter

(Title of this post is a play off Jason Kottke’s post, “Twitter is a machine for continual self-invention”)

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    So I’m definitely of two minds about this…On the one hand, I reject the idea of a “public notebook.” It’s the privacy of...
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