Yesterday I received a review copy of O’Reilly’s new report on Twitter, called Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution: Communication, Connections, and Immediacy—140 Characters at a Time by written by Sarah Milstein (@sarahm), (with Abdur Chowdhury, Gregor Hochmuth, Ben Lorica, and Roger Magoulas, and foreword by Tim O’Reilly). I hope to read it over the weekend.
A few days earlier, I had gotten Pistachio Consulting’s report called Enterprise Microsharing Tools Comparison: Nineteen Applications to Revolutionize Employee Effectiveness written by Laura Fitton (@pistachio). I plan to read over the weekend.
[Note that the titles of these reports are a bit unmicro…]
The only point I am making here is the small scale terminological battle for the naming of this thing. And, of course, I am offering my thoughts on the various alternatives and offering my own.
Milstein nicely frames this naming issue:
[from Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution]
As of today, there’s a thorough-going lack of agreement among service-providers and users about what to call this kind of communication. Entrants include: “micro-blogging,” “micro-sharing,” “micro-updating,” and, well, “Twittering” […].
While the range of names reﬂects the fact that people are using these systems in many different ways, with varied intentions and results, “micro-blogging” is perhaps the most common term. There is some merit to it. After all, like regular-sized blogging, a short-messaging system can be used to share personal or professional information or to link to other sites. And either can be treated as a publishing tool or a communications platform. But given that “blogging” can refer to many kinds of activities, and that those activities don’t even cover the range of possibilities on these new short-message platforms, “micro-blogging” seems both too vague and too speciﬁc a term. Because this report looks at the many ways people are coming to Twitter or micro-whatever—at home, at work, at school, at church, anywhere—we’ll mostly use the catch-all term “micro-messaging.”
@pistachio offers a definition of microsharing:
[from Enterprise Microsharing Tools Comparison]
— social networking tools and systems that enable listening, awareness, communication and collaboration between people, through short bursts of text, links, and multimedia content.
— [a] surprisingly powerful way to connect people to one another for corporate benefit.
So, here’s my thoughts. First, drop the hyphens. Second:
- Micromessaging — I think this term is off, because ‘messaging’ has been rooted in the original email paradigm of one-to-one message transport. Likewise, the almost derogatory use of ‘messaging’ by the marketing 1.0 crowd gives it a mass media feel, one-to-many, even when unintended. And this is definitely a many-to-many sort of thing going on. While techies think of ‘messaging’ in the more general sense of moving pits of data around in the Web, that possible meaning is looking too far down in a hypothetical communication stack. It would be like calling iTunes a digital waveform generator. But the ‘micro’ does seem to modify ‘messaging’ in the right way, underscoring the 140 character limit of Twitter, instead of something else.
- Microsharing — This is @pistachio’s chosen (and coined) term, but I think it places undue emphasis on the emotional and personal dimension. Yes, in open social discourse and lifestreaming we are sharing, but the sharing is not the only or even the most salient part of what is going on. And the modification of ‘sharing’ by ‘micro’ feels like the sharing is being made small, not the format or the tempo.
- Microblogging — Twitter is not really a publishing platform, despite the creation of web pages for each Tweet. Leaving aside human intentions and the actual feel of the experience of Twittering, it could be thought of that way, but it is — at a technical level — really a streaming application. (By the way, this is the metaphor that led Twitter down a performance rat hole at the outset, and which has caused them to rearchitect the system, because they built it as a publishing tool — a microblogging tool — instead of something based on a strong ‘instant messaging’ style architecture.)
- Microstreaming — It is perhaps not surprise that Milstein doesn’t include my term for Twitter, because I am only now — in the past few weeks — starting to use it. Twitter is one of the earliest of the flow applications that support streaming of posts to and from a network of contacts based on the now dominant ‘following/followers’ model. Note that this model is derived from instant messaging, which serves as the proximate ancestor of today’s flow applications. Today’s flow apps have loosened various restrictions on connection from instant messaging, making open social discourse possible, and added the concept of URL-based identity and access to all posts. These form the foundation of flow applications, and the verb that has become tightly coupled to flow is streaming, as in lifestreaming, workstreaming, and so on. Since Twitter is limited to 140 characterers, distinguishing it from other streaming applications as ‘microstreaming’ make sense, and the ‘micro’ prefix seems to modify the root noun in the appropriate way.
This may be a longwinded way to suggest the term, but considering the frenzy of interest in Twitter in the large (open social discourse) and Twitter in the small (for small private groups/groupings, behind the firewall, etc.) I think it’s worthwhile to steer the discussion in a productive direction.