I’ve noticed more than a few people commenting about Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent quote about Twitter:
“Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems”
Apparently he made the statement at Morgan Stanley’s technology conference (Live notes here via Dan Frommer). I’m sensing that a number of people – especially twitter fans – feel like the statement was a little harsh. Perhaps, but taken in a broader context of his statement I don’ think that was his intention.
“In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?”
I actually love twitter comparing twitter to an email platform because it’s key constraint – that it limits users to messages of 140 characters or less – becomes a key benefit (although one with risks).
What I love about twitter is that it forces writers to be concise. Really concise. This inturn maximizes efficiency for readers. What is it Mark Twain said? “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Rather than having one, or even thousands or readers read something that is excessively long, the lone drafter must take the time and energy to make it short. This saves lots of people time and energy. By saying what you’ve got to say in 140 characters, you may work more, but everybody saves.
Of course, this creates two risks: First, Twitter is totally inappropriate for all sorts of communications that require nuance and detail. So you’ve got to figure out what requires detail and nuance and what does not. (and there is a surprising amount of communication that does not – but the mistakes can be painful) Second, in addition to nuance and detail, the short comings generally associated with email – the opportunity for misunderstanding, taking things out of context, triggering someone emotionally – are still present. However, they are probably about the same since, interestingly, because people recognize you only have 140 characters they may be more forgiving in reading your tweet than they are in reading an email.
So Twitter may be a poor man’s email, but it can allow for much more efficient communication because it shifts the time costs from the reader to the writer. Schmidt is right to point out that that creates limitations and challenges, but it also creates huge opportunities. There are a ton of emails I’d prefer to get as Tweets… now if only I could download them into my email application…