What Was Twitter? Pt. 1: A Real-Time Information Network

Twitter wasn’t a social network, not primarily. It was a real-time information network. Its driving energy was not sociality, but its contemporaneousness. To some extent, the algorithm squashed that part of things, but it was still there, if you wanted: a series of posts in reverse chronological order.

More than any other one thing, the nowness of Twitter inflected its many cultures. Breaking news found a natural home on Twitter. So too did time-sensitive communications from public agenices regarding weather, traffic, transit, disasters. The loose collectivity known as Black Twitter often functioned like a global water-cooler.

While many people repeatedly reminded us “Twitter is not real life” - an assertion that is at once both useful and unhelpful – Twitter’s currentness also meant it was the closest we had to “a town square”: not in the literal sense that everyone was on it, nor in the silly sense of a global arena for debate as peddled by Elon Musk, but in the metonymic sense. Despite the distortions of demography and access that limited who was on Twitter and who was most visible, as a real-time information network, Twitter externalized social communication and made it into an interlinked network.

Navneet Alang @navalang