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July 02, 2013 3:02 PM The TwitterVerse and Its Limits

By Ed Kilgore

A colleague (who fondly remembers Ezra Klein from his days as a Washington Monthly intern) drew my attention to a post by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf quoting off-the-cuff remarks Ezra made at the Aspen “Ideas Festival:”

I really try not to get my news from Twitter, which has a reputation as a place where people go and find lots of great news. I find it a place you go to find, I guess, your barbecued potato chips.
A lot of stuff that is kind of interesting, mostly not that good. And it’s absolutely chewed over into cud by the time you get there. So I’ve been making a concerted effort to create structure on my computer using different kinds of software and so forth, that forces me to get less of my news from social media, and more of it by reading my RSS feed, which are blogs, or going to other news sites. I really have begun to worry that it gets really easy to tilt into a Twitter centric news diet, because you feel that if you’re not following it, you miss something that’s gone forever, because the conversation doesn’t archive in any readable way. And I think that creates a kind of obsessive quality, it leads to an over-reliance on the far side of what the signal to noise ratio of not just Tweets, but actual links on Twitter, should be.

It’s a useful warning not to get too Twitter-centric. But I’d observe that the “noise” on Twitter is directly proportional to the size and breadth of your feed. Mine is relatively narrow (I follow 98 Tweeters, most of whom tweet links to their articles or posts), so it operates almost like a RSS feed, with the added advantage of registering the opinions of people I follow on breaking news and Twitter debates, some of which aren’t frivolous at all.

As a news cycle blogger, I really need to be on top of breaking news, and at this point there’s no substitute for Twitter, unless you want to keep a cable news channel on in the background, which I don’t. But sure, Ezra’s right, like any social medium Twitter can become an all-consuming beast in your life if you (a) rely on it exclusively or (b) spend too much time snapping off witty tweets to your friends and followers that isn’t related to deeper content.

I get the impression, BTW, that online conservative activists are more inclined to live on Twitter than progressives, and/or are more inclined to think dominating Twitter volume represents some sort of real-life political victory. They are welcome to that sort of “win.” It’s even less meaningful than Politico’s famous determination to “win the morning.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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