Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blurts: The value of short, rapid, open communication to collective creativity

How can information, passed on 140 characters at a time, contribute to any kind of meaningful exchange? I think it is quite reasonable to write twitter off as a new faddish technology that many people are using just because it seems cool. However, behind the surface level appearance of twitter, and other similar forms of communication, something extremely useful seems to be developing.

This essay is not only about twitter but the more general concept of short, rapid, open communication, which I'll call "blurts". In essence, what I will argue is that blurts might not have much meaning in themselves, but a web of blurts among many people can be valuable to many of the participants. A collection of blurts is akin to a form of brainstorming, but in which some minimal structure appears, allowing the most valuable ideas to persist and be developed. Importantly, that structure comes from the interests of the participants, not from some kind of moderator.

There are four example formats for blurts that I want to consider here, although there are many others floating about that I could have discussed. They are: 1) facebook status updates, 2) twitter's tweets, 3) moves in signtific's forecasting games, and 4) comments in Tim Gowers' mathematical blog. Each has a different character but each shows how the properties of length, rapidity, and openness can play into a successful conversation.