Tag Archives: Twitter blog

Haiti earthquake coverage: Twitter blog

Healing Haiti

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

International relief efforts are underway in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, after yesterday’s devastating magnitude 7 earthquake. The atmosphere at Twitter HQ is heavy today and based on the Trending Topics an overwhelming number of Twitter users feel the same.

Easy Ways To Help
Many of us are wondering how we can contribute to the healing process. A few simple but effective ways to help have emerged.

  • The American Red Cross allows anyone in the US to text HAITI to 90999 as an easy way to donate $10 to the recovery effort. The money is billed to your mobile phone account.
  • Musician Wyclef Jean’s Haiti-focused organization, Yele is also accepting text-message donations. To donate $5, text Yele to 501501 or visit the foundation’s web site.
  • Oxfam International has also set up an earthquake response fund. You can visit their web site to make a donation to this fund.

To follow each of these recovery efforts as they progress, we can follow @redcross, @wyclef, and @oxfam. The Huffington Post, CNN, and The New York Times have spent time curating special lists to track events related to Haiti.

 Posted by @ Biz at 1:26 PM

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Filed under Current events, Journalism, Media, Weblogs

fledgling’s archive, october 2009, part 1

October 2009  

10/21/2009  Grist for the (Twitter) mill  


The following notes, intended for elaboration in the near future, pertain to the language used to describe, characterize or gloss “Twitter,” for example in a Google search result, on the revised Twitter homepage (over against the earlier one) and on the Twitter search homepage.  I’m interested too in what the results of a Twitter search for “twitter” might look like at any given time.  

1.  Google search for “Twitter”:  “Twitter is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now.”  

2.  Twitter homepage:  “Share and discover what is happening right now, anywhere in the world.”  (Remember the relative brevity and simplicity of “What are you doing?”?)  

3.  Twitter search homepage:  “See what’s happening – right now.”  

4.  “Real-time” results for “twitter” on Twitter search:  In the 60 seconds since the search results initially appeared on the screen, “381 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them.”  

Here is a good deal of grist for my mill.  My work has just begun.  

10/20/2009   Kant weighs in on Twitter, part 1 


Caveat lector.  This post reproduces a few pages from my notebook which may or man not be of interest (or even legible) to anyone but myself.  But I am working on the assumption that pretty much everyone who uses Twitter has at least some interest in how it produces meaning and other effects of language.   

What follow are some paragraphs from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” which resulted from a series of graduate seminars he taught at Yale in the early ’80’s.  The essay appears in the volume Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (U Minnesota Press, 1996), which you can find on the press website:  http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/D/de-man-aesthetic.html .  Taking as its focus Kant’s much-misunderstood Critique of Judgment (also known as the Third Critique), de Man’s essay zeroes in on the notoriously difficult sections devoted to the analytic of the sublime.  

In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination:  apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung.  Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination.  

[Anyone see where I’m going with this?]  

The ability of the imagination to achieve synthesis is a boon to the understanding, which is hardly conceivable without it, but this gain  is countered by a corresponding loss.  The comprehension discovers its own limitation, beyond which it cannot reach.  “[The imagination] loses as much on the one side as it gains on the other.”  As the paradigmatic simultaneity substitutes for the syntagmatic succession, an economy of loss and gain is put in place which functions with predictable efficiency, though only within certain well-defined limits.  The exchange from part to whole generates wholes that turn out to be only parts.  Kant gives the example of the Egyptian Savary, who observed that, in order to perceive the magnitude of the pyramids, one could be neither too far away nor too close.  One is reminded of Pascal:  “Bornes en tout genre, cet etat qui tient le milieu entre deux extremes, se trouve en toutes nos puissances.  Nos sens n’apercoivent rien d’extreme, trop de bruit nous assourdit, trop de lumiere eblouit, trop de distance et trop de proximite empeche la vue.  Trop de longeur et trop de brievete de discours l’obscurcit, trop de verite nous etonne….”  [Pensees, Ed. du Seuil, Pensee 199, p. 527]  

[My kindest regards if you’re still with me at this point.  I can only hope that your patience will find its reward.]  


It is not surprising that, from considerations on vision and, in general, on perception, Pascal moves to the order of discourse.  For the model that is being suggested is no longer, properly speaking, philosophical, but linguistic.  It describes not a faculty of the mind, be it as consciousness or as cognition, but a potentiality inherent in language.  For such a system of substitution, set up along a paradigmatic and a syntagmatic axis, generating partial totalizations within an economy of profit and loss, is a very familiar model indeed – which also explains why the passage seems so easy to grasp in comparison with what precedes and follows.  

[Did you find the passage easy to grasp?  Aren’t you grateful that I’m not asking you to read the hard parts that precede and follow?]  

It is the model of discourse as a tropological system.  The desired articulation of the sublime takes place, with suitable reservations and restrictions, within such a purely formal system.  It follows, however, that it is conceivable only within the limits of such a system, that is, as pure discourse rather than as a faculty of the mind.  When the sublime is translated back, so to speak, from language into cognition, from formal description into philosophical argument, it loses all inherent coherence and dissolves in the aporias of intellectual and sensory appearance.  It is also established that, even within the confines of language, the sublime can occur only as a single and particular point of view, a privileged place that avoids both excessive comprehension and excessive apprehension, and that this place is only formally, and not transcendentally, determined.  The sublime cannot be grounded as a philosophical (transcendental or metaphysical) principle, but only as a linguistic principle.  Consequently, the section on the mathematical sublime cannot be closed off in a satisfactory manner and another chapter on the dynamics of the sublime is needed.  (77-78)  

We can pause here, for now.  There is more to come on what Kant – of all people – can teach us about Twitter.  The utility and perhaps the necessity of the concepts of apprehension and comprehension (which may go by other names) for the project or reading Twitter can serve as a point of departure.  

10/19/2009    A flock of tweets (like a murder of crows, or a parliament of rooks)  

On October 19, in the aftermath of the Stephen Gately / Daily Mail fracas on Twitter, Ian Dunt took it as his point of departure in a column posted on politics.co.uk:  

It seems inevitable that within a decade we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere in the world.  

Here is the historic thing about the utility:  It brings a sense of community – real community rather than what someone in marketing might call community – to the internet.  It is beyond the power of political institutions to control.  So far, the courts cannot tame it.  Now the juggernaut of popular opinion which has it the potential of mobilizing is becoming a major player in [the] political and media landscape – a major player in its own right.  

Dunt’s claims for Twitter (which he rightly terms a “utility”) also refer to the groundbreaking events surrounding the issuing of an unprecedented gag order on the Guardian, preventing the paper from reporting on questions raised in Parliament in an effort to protect he interests of the oil production company Trafigura (see my earlier post, “#Trafigura v Twitter,” for a more detailed analysis).  In this instance, not only were #Trafigura and their law firm #CarterRuck trending topics on Twitter over the course of several days, but flashmobs organized via Twitter appeared outside the London office of Carter Ruck in flesh-and-blood protest.  

Dunt’s thoughtful column gestures toward further thinking that it does not undertake, and that I will simply stake out here for future elaboration.  For example:  what sorts of relations link the phenomenon of the trending topic and the occurrence of something like a flashmob – that is, real people turning up at a specified time and place for a common purpose?  If Twitter’s trending topics bespeak a community of people flocking fleetingly around a shared interest, what difference might this make to “what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world” (to cite Twitter’s latest homepage)?  When and how do shared interests gather to constitute a community whose life span is longer than a few hours, or a few days?  

The lifting of the gag order against the Guardian after social media (as well as print and broadcast journalism) exposed the shameful secrets that Trafigura sought vainly to protect hints at the possibility that a “trending topic” may in some instances translate as intervention, changing, however incrementally, the course of history.  On this basis, Dunt is perhaps right to suggest that it “seems inevitable that, within a decade, we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere [“anywhere”] in the world.”  At the rate at which Twitter and other social media are evolving, a decade is, to say the least, a long time.  

10/18/2009  “Can’t we all just get along?”  


Even as thoughts, intuitions and questions regarding Twitter and its multiple impacts continue to amass like unread tweets on a trending topic waiting to be released by the ‘refresh’ button, today’s blog-prompt came unbidden as I rustled through the A-section of this morning’s Globe and Mail, which styles itself “Canada’s national Newspaper” but is also my local daily of choice (most days).  Under the category heading “Policing,” and the title “Schools, lies and videotape:  Footage tells only part of the story,” reporters Joe Friesen and Anna Mahler Paperny follow up on two recent arrests in Ontario and the problematic role played by amateur video recording at the respective scenes.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/do-arrest-videos-really-tell-the-whole-truth/article1328807/  

Raising concerns that date back at least to the explosive video footage of LA police beating Rodney King in 1991, Friesen and Paperny note that “in the jumpy cellphone video of a man being arrested by campus security at the University of Western Ontario last week, several bystanders can be seen aiming their own cellphone cameras in the direction of the action.”  Strikingly similar is the footage of another recent and controversial arrest in Toronto, that of a young man at Northern Secondary School.  In this instance, “As the student demands to know why he’s being arrested, at least three people wave their cameras to let the police officer know that everything is being recorded.”  

In Canada, at least, there is another inevitable reference point for such events and their recording, which postdates the Rodney King case by more than 15 years:  the footage of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being tasered by RCMP officers in Vancouver International Airport.  The video, shot by Victoria resident Paul Pritchard, “contradicted police statements at the time that Mr. Dziekanski was combative and had confronted police.”  


While the events that led to Robert Dziekanski’s death at the hands of the RCMP officers took place in a no-go zone separated from public areas of the airport by a (thankfully transparent) wall of glass, the recent cases in Ontario lead the reporters to observe:  “It’s symbolic of an age of instant, constant scrutiny, where the community instinct to intervene against perceived wrongdoing has been replaced by the urge to stand back and film it” [emphasis added].  

These examples, each with its own specificity as to time, place and circumstances, raise fundamental questions about the relationship between history and historiography – between the materiality of events and their transcription or registration through a variety of media (the cellphone with video camera – and SMS, which also enables Twitter – being for now the most ubiquitous).  Friesen and Paperny’s language casts the tendency toward bystander videography of spectacular or overdetermined events in ethical and ultimately political terms, questioning a perceived shift in the “community instinct” from active engagement in the present to passive witnessing for posterity.  

The article goes on to cite John Fiske, a communications theorist who has studied the Rodney King instance, and who observes that “the trouble is that the video is seen as the whole truth, when at best it is an incomplete representation of what occurred.  Only about 14 people witnessed the Rodney King incident, but millions saw the video and drew their own conclusions.  The video clip is always one person’s representation of what was going on, which is not the same thing as what was actually going on…. What ‘s going on outside of the camera may be very significant in terms of the meaning of what’s going on, what the camera is actually seeing.  But people don’t think of that.  They also often don’t think that the video clip is subject to interpretation.  They think it’s raw reality itself.”  

To the extent that this is the case, one wonders how far our understanding of media has come since the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, which an astonishing number of Americans came to confuse with the event itself.  In these terms, the image (whatever its medium) is substituted for the event, with which, however, it can never coincide.  And because the image (or, in the case of Twitter, the “characters” or the link) is mediated, transmitted, it is never, ever, “live.”  I’ll have more to say about the need, in appeals to the “real-time” Web, to bear this in mind.  

10/17/2009  Save time:  tweet.  Save more time:  retweet.  


Scrolling down my Twitter homepage a few minutes ago, I clicked on Mashable’s “Top 5 Twitter Trends to Watch Right Now” (“now” being sometime on October 17, 2009), as reported by Jennifer Van Grove (http://bit.ly/25ufvg ).  In attendance at the Blog World Expo in Las Vegas, Jennifer took the opportunity to survey a handful of authorities for their responses.  Among them was Chris Pirillo, “Lifecaster, blogger and uber web geek,” who argued among other things that more bloggers are tweeting instead of blogging, that Twitter gives some bloggers the chance to save the “time and energy poured into long-form blog posts, and instead find a way to say the same thing in 140 characters.”  Increasingly, Pirillo observes, Twitter is “augmenting blogging” in this fashion.  

For the moment, I’m less interested in the truth value of Pirillo’s assertion, than in what is apparently one of his favourite formulations, as cited by Van Grove:  “Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’ve been thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.”  

Conjoining matters of thought and temporality, this pithy….  You know, maybe Pirillo is on to something.  Screw it.  I’ll just retweet.  

10/16/2009  Fledgling Initiative?  You talkin’ to me?  

I must confess to feeling a little unsettled at the moment.  Having just logged on to the Twitter blog’s most recent update (October 15, 2009), scanned its first paragraphs, and idly clicked on a link, I was startled to see the word that gives this blog its title (and some of its character) popping up everywhere on the page announcing Twitter’s new Fledgling Initiative, which “aims to make awesome wine for the benefit of Room to Read, a non-profit organization extending literacy and educational opportunities to children worldwide.”  The idea is that “every case sold will provide approximately 60 local language children’s books and promote education in the world’s poorest regions.”  And it seems that Fledgling Wine will be drinkable at the least:  “These wines are being made using some of the best vineyards in California by the acclaimed winemaking team at Crushpad [wait…is there a tie-in to TypePad here?]  In addition, 2009 appears to be an excellent vintage in California, potentially one of the best of the decade.  Buy wine for $20.00.”  (A brief detour to http://www.crushpad.com yields the fact that “we’re a combination of wine industry veterans and technology industry refugees….”)  

There is a “quick video” explaining how this initiative will help promote literacy, featuring John Wood, an ex-corporate-tech-guy who founded the Room to Read project.  Just beneath the video is “An introduction from Biz and Ev,” which I will record in full here to help myself process what it says:  

As a company that’s only one percent into its journey, we’re always thinking about our long term impact on the world.  The Fledgling Initiative embodies two things that are at the core of Twitter’s mission:  providing access to information and highlighting the power of open communication to bring about positive change.  This initiative is just one piece of that approach.  Take part in this mission and pre-buy our limited bottles of the wine. You can follow along with our wine-making activities on Twitter and at some points even participate in its creation.  For each bottle you buy, $5 will be donated to Room to Read, a transformational non-profit that brings books, libraries and ultimately literacy to people in the poorest areas around the world.  The efforts of Room to Read will benefit literacy, and in doing so they’ll allow Twitter to grow.  Because if you can’t read you can’t Tweet!  

Okay, so I’m getting over my initial reaction (Wtf?!? They stole my name!), and now my generous side is at war with my cynical side in an effort to make sense of this (and decide whether or not to pre-order a bottle of pinot, if only to have the label as a souvenir).  Earlier this week, I retweeted Mashable’s bulletin that “‘Twitter Adds 110 Million Potential New Users With SMS Deal in India” (http://retw.me/VSLn ).  And now, scrolling down the Twitter blog, I see that @BIZ had something to say about that on October 14, under the title “Hello, Bharti Airtel”:  

Twitter is committed to fostering the open exchange of information because we passionately believe it can have a positive global impact.  When people can exchange information freely and publicly they are able to accomplish great things.  As powerful as the Internet has become for the democratization of information, its range is limited when compared to mobile texting – a format uniquely native to Twitter [emphasis added].  There are over one billion people with Internet access on the planet but there are more than four billion people with mobile phones and Twitter can work on all of them because even the simplest of these devices feature SMS.  

We have seen people use Twitter to help each other during fuel shortages, track the spread of wildfires, check in during earthquakes, organize major charitable events, spread urgent news efficiently around the world, and much more.  In many of these scenarios, texting has been the key.  People exchanging information quickly and efficiently with the device that has become essential to everyday life, their mobile phone.  In many parts of the world people do not have Internet access but they can text – and that means they can access Twitter.  

As we grow, we seek to partner with organizations that share our vision for positive global impact.  Our partnership with Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile operator in India, means a huge population of people [? – ed.] can now send tweets at standard rates and receive tweets for free.  Bharti Airtel is offering people in every city, every village, every remote taluk and even the smallest panchayat the opportunity to connect to Twitter and enjoy the open exchange of information with no added fees.  We are proud to have Bharti Airtel as our partner.  Give Twitter a try with your Airtel phone by sending START to 53000.  And spread the word!  

Twitter is not about technology, it’s about people….  

Sorry, Biz, but that last assertion doesn’t hold up.  Of course Twitter is first and foremost about technology, and your denial of something so obvious in this context makes me wonder if you are being straight up in the rest of the post.  I’m left with dwindling time, several questions and a wish that someone would help me figure them out:  

1.  Why did they have to nick my name?  (This, dear reader, is a rhetorical question and does not require an answer.)  I’m so glad I claimed my URL on Technorati back in September.  

2.  How much does it cost to make a bottle of that wine?  If it’s less than $15, where does the rest of the money go?  (This is, after all, “the largest social wine-making process in history,” according to the promo video.)  

3.  How does Twitter calculate that it is “only one percent into its journey”?  Are the mixed metaphors symptomatic in some way that matters?  

4.  What “percentage” – or what niche – of Twitter users do they reckon will pony up $20 USD for an untried bottle?  

5.  How transparent is the Twitter blog?  

10/15/2009  #Trafigura v Twitter  


In an attempt to provide readers of this blog with a red thread that identifies its component parts and ties them loosely together (cf. the allusion to Goethe’s Elective Affinities – literary source of the figure of the red thread – in a prior post), I dutifully re-read my last entry, on Steven Johnson’s analysis of Twitter.  I was reminded just how  right he is to highlight the importance of user innovations since Twitter’s inception, and especially how, “thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago [he was writing in June, 2009], that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.”  

In fact I had, moments earlier, been doing just that:  following a “live” or “real-time” feed of tweets turned up by my Twitter search under the hashtag #Trafigura.  As I tweeted yesterday, Trafigura – a moniker new to me – sounded  like the name of the horse that finished third.  A cursory survey of etymological sources yielded little of interest, though it pointed to other terms, including prefigure and disfigure, that are not without relevance to the high-stakes unfolding over the last few days.  

It is at times like these (though no two times, no two historical moments, are the same) that I become aware that Twitter’s sheer speed, evident in the hectic reverse chronology via which one tracks events as they unfold, is at once its great strength and its potential limitation.  Certainly during the Iranian election and its aftermath, as I strained to follow the rapid-fire timelines under #IranElection and other hashtags, it seemed that the requisite thinking through was racing to keep up with the reporting and other interventions frantically accumulating before each frequent hit of the “refresh” button.  Scott Rosenberg’s pithy formulation – “We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later” – does not assuage a certain anxiety that something of potential value will be lost in filtration.  

In this case, I spent yesterday assembling a brief archive of reporting and opinion on the gag order (or “super-injunction”) against the Guardian on matters relating to the London-based oil trading company Trafigura and its attempt to cover up the publication of findings into its dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidijan.  Rather than sythesize and paraphrase the accounts in this space, I will simply furnish links to some of them, for those to whom this may still be news, or those who want to read further.  









What will land this episode in the history (of Twitter) books is the fact that the gag order against the Guardian, links to Wikileaks and a variety of other relevant information were reported, tweeted and retweeted on Twitter, with great agility and acumen.  Among others, Mike Butcher of TechCrunch pointed out that “the entire issue trended on Twitter with hashtags including #guardiangag, #guardian, #carterruck (the name of the law firm representing Trafigura) and of course #Trafigura.”  In short, social media, with Twitter leading the pack, helped circumvent the heavy hand of censorship.  As Butcher phrased it in his story title for TechCrunch, “There’s nowhere to hide if your name trends on Twitter.  Is there, Trafigura?”  While savouring this important victory, and the frisson of watching a corporate villain attain the heights of trending topics, I would simply caution that virtually nobody stays on trending topics for more than a day or two.  Historical memory must be there to supplement Twitter, in every instance.  

10/13/2009  Twitterfied  

One wonders:  is somebody out there at work, right now, on a history of Twitter?  Will there be, one day soon, a chronicling of its origins and development that can hold its own next to Scott Rosenberg’s comprehensive history of blogging?  Certainly, in the case of Twitter, that history has unfolded in unpredictable fashion, and in ways no doubt unforeseen by its creators.  A handy journalistic account of some of the innovations and interventions that have forged Twitter’s path is to be found in “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live,” written by Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) for time.com in June 2009.  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1902818,00.html  

Johnson’s claim is that “the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us.  It’s what we’re doing to it.”  What we’re doing to and with Twitter, he suggests,  falls into three basic categories:  social networks, live searching, and link-sharing.  Below are a handful of excerpts from his brief but suggestive piece.  

The basic mechanics of Twitter are remarkably simple.  Users publish tweets – those 140-character messages – from a computer or mobile device (The character limit allows tweets to be created and circulated via the SMS platform used by most mobile phones).  As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers.  When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page….  

…Twitter users have begun to find a route around that [140 character] limitation by employing Twitter as a pointing device instead of a communications channel:  sharing links to longer articles, discussions, posts, videos – anything that lives behind a URL.  Websites that saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from “passed links” at social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  

…Put these three elements together – social networks, live searching and link-sharing – and you have a cocktail that poses what may amount to the most interesting alternative to Google’s near-monopoly in searching.  At its heart, Google’s system is built around the slow, anonymous accumulation of authority:  pages rise to the top of Google’s search results according to, in part, how many links point to them, which tends to favor older pages that have had time to build an audience.  That’s a fantastic solution for finding high-quality needles in the immense, spam-plagued haystack that is the contemporary Web.  But it’s not a particularly useful solution for finding out what people are saying right now, the in-the-moment conversation that industry pioneer John Battelle calls the “super fresh” Web.  Even in its toddlerhood, Twitter is a more efficient supplier of the super-fresh Web than Google.  

This is not just a matter of people finding a new use for a tool designed to do something else.  In Twitter’s case, the users have been redesigning the tool itself.  The convention of grouping a topic or event by the “hashtag”…was spontaneously invented by the Twitter-userbase (as was the convention of replying to another user with the @ symbol).  The ability to search a live stream of tweets was developed by another startup…. Thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago, that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.  

Moving into prophetic mode, Johnson foresees a future that is permanently “Twitterfied”:  

…it’s entirely possible that 3 or 4 years from now, we’ll have moved on to some Twitter successor.  But the key elements of the Twitter platform – the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching – will persevere regardless of Twitter’s fortunes, just as Web conventions like links, posts and feeds have endured over the past decade.  In fact, every major channel of information will be Twitterfied in one way or another in the coming years.  

Perhaps.  Probably.  But then again, as Twitter has so lately instructed us, history lies in the unforeseen.  

10/09/2009  “Permanence is out of reach”  


Having alluded in my last post to the argument(s) to be made for blogging, as well as tweeting, as artful pursuits, I subsequently located  a few paragraphs from Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything that make a fairly persuasive case.  They also raise crucial questions about the survival, over time, of these virtual texts.  

For all the novelty surrounding it, the act of blogging is fundamentally literary.  A blogger selects some information or experience, shapes it into words and sentences, and hoists it into public view.  Linking may change some aspects of reading, and comment threads and permalinks and RSS feeds may dot the screen, but at heart blogging is a species of writing, in the direct line of descent from the Rosetta Stone through Shakespeare to The New Yorker (and the Weekly World News).  Although a blog lives for today, in the moment, more than most other literary forms, its record is intended for the future as well.  That is why so many bloggers obsessively maintain their archives, painstakingly reformatting older entries to survive each transition from one publishing system to the next. 

Will today’s blogs survive long enough to matter to future generations?  Most of us are intensely aware of the fragility of digital data:  a life savings of information can vanish with the theft of a laptop or the crash of an unbacked-up hard disk.  Many early blogs have disappeared from the Web, leaving little or no trace…. Words on the Web, we rightly fear, are ephemeral. 

On the other hand, data on the Internet has a remarkably enduring half-life.  Copying bits is what computers do – they are, as Cory Doctorow says, “copying machines.”  Copies of most material that has been posted online since the late 1990’s exist in some form somewhere…. Once a document has been widely dispersed on the Internet, it is difficult to suppress, even when you try, and have the legal right to do so. 

Paper fades; bits get deleted.  Libraries burn; disks crash.  Whatever the medium, permanence is out of reach.  No matter:  bloggers might hope to be read by children or even grandchildren, but few dream of immortality for their words.  The Web has made it possible for us to write more, to distill more and consume more…. But blogging’s critics have been so incensed over the ways in which blogging differs from the literary past that they have missed the ways in which it carries literary values into the future.  (345) 

More in due course on writing and reading blogs – and on the matter of the archive.


10/09/09  Cards on the table

   Benjamin writing
A quick check of my Typepad stats just now yielded the following:  22 posts, 8 comments, 7 followers, 760 “lifetime” page views, 38 average page views per day.  So I won’t be featured on Technorati anytime soon (though I have been, inexplicably, on Tweetmeme).  At this stage, I might feel more than a little discouraged at the time and energy it takes to gain a foothold in a medium that claims to allow for the lightning-quick, for transmission and exchange in what is termed “real-time,” were it not for two figures that I hold out, each in his way, as exemplars.  I think first of Walter Benjamin, whose work I have been reading for most of my adult life; in this context, I return to his essay “The Task of the Translator, written in 1923 as an introduction to his own translations of Baudelaire.  Here is its notorious first paragraph, as translated by Harry Zohn: In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful.  Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such.  Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response.  No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  [emphasis added] 
Certainly this blog lays no claim to be a work of art – though there is an argument to be made for blogging, and tweeting, as artful pursuits.  But I did not embark on this project for the sake of my potential readers, nor with the purpose of building a readership – that will either happen, or it won’t.  What prompted me to begin blogging (cards on the table) was the prospect of a regular, disciplined practice of writing, to dislodge my habitual modes of research and more research, voluminous note-taking leading to drafts and more drafts, revisions galore and eventually, should all the stars align, publication within two years of manuscript delivery.  What I’m doing instead (or at least on a parallel track) in this still-experimental space, is essentially posting pages from my notebooks.  Which brings me to my second exemplar, the blogger who writes under the name Salam Pax.  As I indicated a few posts back, Salam blogged earlier this year about finding a notebook that had served as a diary during the months after the invasion of Baghdad, and that had gone missing in the ensuing chaos.  Five years on, he told his readers the story of the lost notebook, and added “I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you… I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”  http://salampax.wordpress.com
While my notebooks, some of which date back more than five years and have likewise been retrieved from a chaotic period, can’t hold a candle to Salam’s – they have survived neither siege nor bombs, and chronicle no such historical events – I humbly follow his example in posting pages from them anyway.  But I’ll hang on to the originals, at least for a while.

 10/08/2009  Give me permalinks or give me oblivion

Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything is a valuable account of the history of Web-based journalism and the origins and rise of blogging.  In particular, his insight into “the simple utility of a reverse-chronological list” as a way to help readers understand where to look for new material is grounded in a meticulous chronicling of the early days of Web publishing.  At this stage, when many have come to take for granted the instant fix afforded by reverse chronology, when websites (in Rosenberg’s terms) are “less about subscription than about addiction,” it is worthwhile to retrace his steps, to connect what we experience now with the origins and genesis of Web publishing.




Say Everything also makes a persuasive case for the watershed character of the advent of “permalinks,”

 a code for each blog post that enabled other websites and bloggers to link back to a specific post. (Previously it had been difficult to do anything other than point to a blog’s home page, which would change all the time, foiling any attempt to link to a particular item.) Later the Movable Type platform would expand this concept by giving each individual blog post its own separate Web page as a permanent home with a unique address to which links could point.  Most other blogging tools followed suit.  This software wrinkle, lttle noticed at the time, made a huge difference:  it meant that the basic unit of writing online would change from the page to the post.  Blog posts became the atoms of the Web.

In our own moment, we are bound to pay attention to the little-noticed software wrinkles that are changing the medium right now.

 10/07/2009  ‘Say Everything.’ Really?

As a relative latecomer to blogging, and as someone whose writing has generally been destined for articles, essays and books, I am still coming to terms with the novelty of one-click self-publication.  While it continues to feel a bit strange to make public what is merely presentable prose – written in one sitting, lacking the presumptive polish of a ‘finished’ piece – I have set aside my qualms for the time being in the resolve simply to take part.

 Like others, I have learned a good deal about the genesis of blogging from Scott Rosenberg’s recent volume Say Everything, whose subtitle is How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming, and Why it Matters.  The following paragraph seems to have generated the book’s title:

Most writers today grew up in a world where the ability to publish was a hard-won privilege, and, once won, guaranteed at least some attention on its basis alone.  That world is rapidly fading.  On the Web, publishing has become an abundant, effectively limitless resource.  Clay Shirky has laid out the consequences for us:  When publishing was scarce, we filtered first, making choices based on relevance or quality before committing words to our limited stock of paper, our costly fleet of trucks, our scarce radio and TV frequencies.  The Web inverts this sequence.  We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later. (319)

 I take Rosenberg’s point, and recognize the paradigm shift he is indicating.  But surely any blogger worth reading asks questions before and while writing posts, comments and responses.  Interrogating one’s topic cannot be postponed till after publication, even if blogging allows for the rapid transmission of unfinished work.  And what blogger would presume to ‘say everything’ about anything in a single post?

 In my next post (or some post hereafter) I will return to Rosenberg’s valuable volume, which offers plenty of grist for a blogger’s mill.

10/06/2009  Viva Salam Pax

Salam Pax notebook 

I predicted in my first post that I would be citing the words and work of others as this blog unspools.  In the spirit of reproducing posts that are better than any I can hope to write – well, I can always hope, I suppose – I offer a sampling from Salam Pax:  The Baghdad Blogger.  I chose this entry from among other possibilities in part because it extends a poignant promise of more to come.

 “Looking back, one last time.”  March 22, 2009

 In three weeks time it’s the 6th anniversary for the fall/liberation of Baghdad.

 Baghdad falls/Baghdad is liberated…all semantics.  What is fact is our life in Iraq as we knew it ended at that day.

 Since the start of the war in 2003 we had to move house three times for various reasons.  A lot was given away or lost in those moves including a notebook I used as a diary during the days when we had no electricity or internet access, it also contained flyers and other things from those days.

When the bombing stopped a couple of weeks later and the first place with internet access opened I sent all the notes to my blog friend Diana Moon and she posted them for me on my blog.  The blog posts from that time are still online, you can go check them out. 

While looking through the boxes of belongings I found the notebook, with newspapers, photos and the flyers I had kept.  As five years have passed and we’re entering the seventh year of our post-war/post-Saddam lives I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you. 

Until the 9th I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”* 

Read more at http://salampax.wordpress.com/ 

Viva Salam Pax. 

*Readers of fledgling:  cf. my previous post on Fisk’s Beirut bookbinder, who apparently throws very little paper away no matter how old it is. 

 10/05/2009  The Bookbinder of Beirut

Bookbinding koran

Never mind the fact that there is no journalist that I admire more than Robert Fisk – this is merely anecdotal.  But I find something characteristically instructive, and perhaps salutary, in his recent column for The Independent on the oldest and most honoured bookbinder in Beirut, known for that reason as “Sheik Tijlid” – Sheik Binder.  Here is a sample:

There are only five left in Lebanon, repairing old newspapers, handwritten 17th-century Korans, ministry archives, cutting and pasting and then modelling fine leather covers and impressing on that wonderful soft leather the title of each volume in gold leaf.  Riyad Shaker al-Khabbaz lives for his bunker of an office with its ancient iron presses, its century-old steel Arabic typeface from Germany, France and England. Some of his presses come from the homes of priests – who were the bookbinders of Beirut in centuries past. 

He hands me a Koran, written in black and red ink, the margins adorned with yet more handwriting, interpretations of the sura – 300, 400 years old? – and he tells me about his client.  ‘He is a man who greatly loves a Lebanese woman and he wants to give this to her as a gift.  It is worth $100,000.’ 


For those who dwell in large part in the virtual world, who spend their days staring at flickering screens of one sort or another, such an account may jar them back to a reckoning with the materiality of the written word, and the materiality of the history to which, in one of its multiple functions, it refers.

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fledgling’s archive, january 2010

 1/06/2010  Motivational reading: Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’

I finally made the time to embark on Clay Shirky’s first book, which I’ve been wanting to read for months.  Having consistently come away from various blog posts and videos that he’s shared a bit wiser than I was going in, I opened the volume with high expectations, which were met in the first few paragraphs.  His anecdotal example of the stolen phone, and his analysis of the extent to which it “demonstrates the ways in which the information we give off about ourselves, in photos and e-mails and MySpace pages and all the rest of it, has dramatically increased our social visibility and made it easier for us to find each other but also to be scrutinized in public,” gets to at least one crux of our historical present.  What I like most in what I’ve read so far, however, is an unattributed quotation that serves as a section header on page 6:  “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.”  For me, this stunning imperative provides a modicum of hope for the future, from the standpoint of a present that reads, all too often, as grim.  I recognize here the topos of the Archimedean point, but I can’t recall the source of this “moving” (motivational?) citation.  Can anybody help me out? Clay, are you there? (You shouldn’t be all that hard to find, right?)

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01/04/2010   Before the fact: Walter Benjamin on blogging

Today’s brief offering transcribes another scrawled entry in my notebook, one that records more of Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street (which had its own origins in barely-legible notes).  In the context of the year-and-decade-end inbox avalanche of advice on how to optimize, maximize and monetize one’s blog, this comes, to me at least, as sweet relief and bracing reminder.

“Standard Clock”

To great writers, finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they work throughout their lives.  For only the more feeble and distracted take an inimitable pleasure in closure, feeling that their lives have thereby been given back to them.  For the genius each caesura, and the heavy blows of fate, fall like gentle sleep itself into his workshop labor.  Around it he draws a charmed circle of fragments.  “Genius is application.” 

 (Selected Writings, vol. 1, 446)

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01/02/2010  @Biz on “A year in the life of Twitter”

A link in the Twitter blog post by @Biz (December 29, 2009) connects the reader to his recent article “Why we can never rest:  a year in the life of Twitter.” 


The article’s closing lines are perhaps worth citing, for the record. 

Many people have assumed that Twitter is just another social network, some kind of micro-blogging service, or both.  It can be these things but primarily Twitter serves as a real-time information network powered by people around the world discovering what’s happening and sharing the news.  The Iranian election was the most discussed issue on Twitter in the final year of a decade defined by advancements in information access. 

In the new year, Twitter will begin supporting a billion search queries a day.  We will be delivering several billion tweets per hour to users around the world.  These are figures we did not anticipate when we founded the company in 2007. 

Posted at 09:48 AM in Journalism, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) 

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01/01/2010  Walter Benjamin on the virtues of blogging

The new year appears to be off to a fine start. I’m fortunate enough to be blogging from a gorgeous small hotel in Toronto, where I’m ensconced as the snow falls softly on the other side of the windows and I embark on my first post of 2010. This time last year I wasn’t yet a blogger; with nearly 100 posts under my belt, I’m feeling at least legit.  As I mentioned two or three posts back, my idea is to take as a point of departure for the next several posts the question of what Walter Benjamin has to teach us, in our time – for example, about blogging.  For the most part, I’ll simply quote his writings, adding commentary where appropriate. 

I begin by returning to a work that I cited recently:  One-Way Street, which is translated and collected in Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Harvard University Press, 1996, vol. 1, 444).  This is the first section of the text, entitled “Filling Station.”  Its pertinence to blogging seems to me self-evident. 

The construction of life is at present in the power far more of facts than of convictions, and of such facts as have scarcely ever become the basis of convictions.  Under these circumstances, true literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary framework; this is, rather, the habitual expression of its sterility.  Significant literary effectiveness can come into being only in a strict alternation between action and writing; it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that fit its influence in active communities better than does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book – in leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards [and blog posts, and tweets… – Ed.].   Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment.  Opinions are to the vast apparatus of social existence what oil is to machines:  one does not go up to a turbine and pour machine oil over it; one applies a little to hidden spindles and joints that one has to know.

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fledgling’s archive, october 2009, part 2

October 2009


10/31/09  Hard core (not what you think)

With this post I will take some preliminary steps toward the goal of comprehension (cf my earlier posts on Kantian apprehensio and comprehensio), with the example or target being Twitter’s new “lists” feature, and microblogging’s iterative mode more generally (Josh Marshall of TPM makes reference to this with some frequency – I’ll return to some of his formulations down the line).  Taking the form of another page from my notebook, with little commentary for the moment, this will remain a draft even when it’s published; though it may appear obscure for now, I will try over time to make its relevance clear. 

The theoretical stakes in thinking through the repetitive, iterative character of Twitter itself and of the user’s experience are very similar those that underlie an essay by Paul de Man entitled “Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric,” which appears in the volume The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984). The latter part of the essay takes the form of a reading of Baudelaire’s sonnet “Correspondances.   

The canonical and programmatic sonnet “Correspondances” contains not a single sentence that is not simply declarative.  Not a single negation, interrogation, or exclamation, not a single verb that is not in the present indicative, nothing but straightforward affirmation:  “La Nature est un temple…Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants.” (243)  

Much of de Man’s reading, which I’m only telegraphing here, turns on the meanings and effects of the word “comme” (“like”) in Baudelaire’s text: 

When it is said that “les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent…comme des longs echos,” then the preposition of resemblance, “comme,” the most frequently counted word in the canon of Baudelaire’s poetry, does its work properly and clearly, without upsetting the balance between difference and identity that it is assigned to maintain.  It achieves a figure of speech…. All this is playing at metaphor according to the rules of the game.  But the same is not true of the final “comme” in the poem:  ” Il est des parfums frais comme…/Doux comme…/–Et d’autres…Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies/Comme l’ambre. le musc, le benjoin et l’encens.”  Ce comme n’est pas un comme comme les autres….here “comme” relates to the subject “parfums” in two different ways or, rather, it has two distinct subjects.  If “comme” is related to “l’expansion des choses infinies,” which is grammatically as well as tonally possible, then it still functions, like the other “commes,” as a comparative simile:  a common property (“l’expansion”) links the finite senses to an experience of infinity.  But “comme” also relates to “parfums”:  “Il est des parfums frais…/–Et d’autres…/Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens”; the somewhat enigmatic hyphen can be said to mark that hesitation (as well as rule it out).  “Comme” then means as much as “such as, for example” and enumerates scents which contrast with “chairs d’enfants” as innocence contrasts with experience or nature with artifice.  This working out by exemplification is quite different from the analogical function assigned to the other uses of “comme.”   

In de Man’s reading, this use of “comme” in the sense of “such as, for example” is aberrant, out of order:  

For although the burden of totalizing expansion seems to be attributed to these particular scents rather than the others, the logic of “comme” restricts the semantic field of “parfums” and confines it to a tautology:  “Il est des parfums…/Comme (des parfums).”  Instead of analogy, we have enumeration, and an enumeration which never moves beyond the confines of a set of particulars….” (emphasis added)

Baudelaire’s sonnet thus exemplifies the way in which   

Enumerative repetition disrupts the chain of tropological substitution at the crucial moment when the poem promises, by way of these very substitutions, to reconcile the pleasures of the mind with those of the senses and to unite aesthetics with epistemology.  That the very word on which these substitutions depend would just then lose its syntactical and semantic univocity is too striking a coincidence not to be, like pure chance, beyond the control of author and reader.”  (RR 240-250, emphasis added)   

Here, then, are a few more notebook pages waiting to be re-read, ordered and introduced into our ongoing analysis of Twitter.   

Posted at 01:45 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: analogy, Baudelaire, enumeration, Josh Marshall, Paul de Man, The Rhetoric of Romanticism, TPM, Twitter   


10/30/2009  Calling all curators. Tend your lists.

For regular readers of this blog:  file today’s post under “apprehension,” and not yet “comprehension.”   


My Twitter “lists” function was activated today, a full 30 days after the Twitter blog published “Soon to Launch:  Lists,” written by the project lead, Nick Kallen (@nk).  The mild frustration that marked the wait for the “small subset of users” who got to try the feature on beta to expand to include me and my ilk was comparable to that involved in awaiting the H1N1 vaccine rollout (in the meantime, I got the flu).  Thus far, I’ve only had time to locate five lists posted by five trusted sources.  I have yet to track these new feeds extensively, or to begin to compile lists of my own (a bit of reaping before I sow).   

What first intrigued me about the new feature was the idea that users could “curate” lists of Twitter accounts (@nk’s post uses this term; it also asserts that “lists have the potential to be an important new discovery mechanism for great tweets and accounts”).  http://blog.twitter.com/   

From early on in my thinking about social media, and certainly in my practice, I have conceived of blogging and microblogging as the curation of ideas, sources and images.  To the extent that the lists feature enhances – even as it complicates – the activity of curation, it is a development to be welcomed (and of course monitored).   

A quick detour via the Oxford English Dictionary (almost always worth the drive) reminds us that to curate is to “select, organize and look after the items in a collection or exhibition,” and that the Latin root is curare, meaning “to take care of.”  My sense, at this early stage, is that care will be required in the thoughtful and progressive deployment of Twitter lists.   

For a handy assessment of the potential downsides, check out scobleizer’s posterous (post and extensive comments):   


Also worth consulting, as ever, is Dave Winer:  http://r2.ly/mgfw   

I’ll have more to say on the list as figure in due course.   

Posted at 07:00 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: blogging, Dave Winer, Nick Kallen, Oxford English Dictionary, scobleizer, Twitter, Twitter blog, Twitter lists   


10/29/2009  Diversify your media portfolio

Morning tonic: some characteristically adept reporting and analysis by The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders, writing from Prague as the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall draws near:  “In Czechoslovakia, human network made the message go viral” (October 29, A20; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/in-czechoslovakia-human-network-made-the-mesage-go-viral/article1343132/ ).  Recalling the history of the Czech resistance and its multiple modes of communication, Saunders’ article provides an important context for the vaunting of Twitter and SMS as instruments of political mobilization in our own time.   

In 1989, Jirka Meska was in the business of making information move, as fast as possible, around the communist state of Czechoslovakia.   

Officially, that meant he was among the country’s highly protected elite software engineers, responsible for writing operating systems and networking applications for the primitive mainframes of the Eastern Bloc.   

Unofficially, he had discovered more effective information-spreading techniques.  As a secret link to the country’s anti-authoritarian underground network called Charter 77, he was capable of helping cause 10,000 people to appear at a protest suddenly, or to stop work for a day, an escalating wave of actions that played a key role in bringing down the government.   

“It got to the point that half the country could know something within a few hours, even though it couldn’t be mentioned in any of the media or spoken over the phone,” the bearded programmer said the other day in his Prague campus office.   

Twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov.9, 1989, and the communist government in neighbouring Czechoslovakia joined its neighbours in giving up power six weeks later,the activists involved are struck by the fact they were able to communicate with a speed and efficiency that would be difficult today – even though they lacked the cellphones, e-mail networks, Twitter accounts and websites used nowadays by anti-government movements in places such as Iran.   

Former resistance members in the Czech Republic and the former East Germany say there were two factors that made news move at better-than-Twitter efficiency in the revolutionary days of ’89:  A network of human relationships that conveyed information informally on a regular basis, and a population who were highly focused on only a few channels of information, both official and clandestine.   

“You didn’t have people looking at 200 different TV channels and 10,000 websites and e-mails from thousands of people,” says Rainer Muller, one of the East German dissidents who brought 200,000 people onto the streets of Leipzig in October of 1989.  “You could put something on a Western TV or radio station and you could be sure that half the country would know it.”   

The technology was often primitive, for a good reason:  Using the telephone was extremely risky, and the print and broadcast media were regime-controlled.   

Mr. Meska, the software engineer, held such an important position that the regime had a high threshold for his insurrection.  So he became a trusted communication hub for the underground, a human router – though he resorted to a pre-digital medium to reach the nation.   

“I went into the research institute’s photocopy office one day with a copy of the underground secret newspaper Lidove Noviny, and I was surprised to find that the woman there let me make a copy of it,” he said.  “So later that day I came in and made 200 copies.  And after that I became a samizdat publisher, effectively.”   

Each of those copies would reach hundreds of people, because they would be circulated among networks of people – not members of the underground, but ordinary citizens who were used to meeting at pubs, passing on information and rumours, and sending them along to other circles of friends the same day….   

The phone was a risk – but the East Germans discovered it could be used effectively if large groups of people shared calls from public phones.   

And the goal was always to reach radio and TV stations outside the Iron Curtain that reached across the border.   

“We would hold a weekly telephone conference in which we would report on what was going on, and the purpose of this was to have someone different each day who could relay all the information to the Western media through West Germany – this proved an extremely effective method to reach the whole country,” said Mr. Muller, the East German…..   

After the Berlin Wall fell in Germany, Czechs began to organize a serious resistance movement known as the Civic Forum in early November, 1989, and within six weeks it became the government.   

It was launched in typical lo-fidelity fashion:  Czechs, who gathered habitually at the theatre, suddenly found the actors reading anti-government news rather than lines from the play.  It was massive, fast, and more effective than a text message.   

Here I refer my readers to my previous post, “A flock of tweets (like a murder of crows, or a parliament of rooks),” in which I cite Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, writing in the aftermath of the Stephen Gately/Daily Mail surge on Twitter:  “It seems inevitable that within a decade we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere in the world.”  Revolutionaries everywhere (fledglings included):  heed the lessons of Prague.  Diversify your media portfolio.   

Posted at 12:53 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Berlin Wall, Charter 77, civic Forum, Czech resistance, Czechoslovakia, Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, Ian Dunt, Jirka Meska, November 1989, Prague, Rainer Muller, samizdat, SMS, Twitter   


10/29/2009  A novice blogger’s inventory


 This, it turns out, is my 40th post on fledgling.  While it’s not a major milestone by any stretch, I thought it could serve as an occasion for taking stock of the posts to date:  not in terms of their quality or effectiveness (that is not for me to say), nor in terms of how many readers they have reached (despite Typepad’s dashboard data, this is not yet clear).  What I’d like to inventory for my own purposes going forward is this:  What is it that prompts the post in the first place?  To what source does it owe its existence?    

As of October 28 and excluding this post, my totals are as follows:   

– 39 posts   


– 1146 lifetime pageviews   

– 28.65 average pageviews/day   

So, without regard to any psychological or even analytical response I may have to those numbers at this stage, I’d like simply to tally figures on what sources prompted them.   

– A particular tweet or link served up by Twitter:  11   

– The Twitter blog:  3   

– Other online sources:  8   

– Print sources:  4   

– Broadcast sources:  1   

– My notebooks:  7   

– Mostly unmediated experience:  5   

For me, these numbers attest to how unpredictably this project has unfolded thus far.  I foresaw more posts originating with a conceptual or theoretical claim (which would then be tested against individual cases), and there is an element of pleasant surprise at how many of the prompts have come by way of particular tweets and their indispensable links.  At the same time, I am aware that some version of Kant’s two acts of the imagination, apprehension and comprehension, will be required for any critical reading of Twitter (cf my post “Breaking news:  Kant weighs in on Twitter, Part 1,” from which I take the liberty of quoting once again in this context).   

 Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination.   

In other words, I could continue ad infinitum taking my cues from successive tweets (which is good to know:  writer’s block shouldn’t be an issue).  At some stage – or rather periodically along the way – the effort to reach a cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended must, for a time, take precedence.   

Posted at 10:12 AM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: apprehension, blog post, comprehension, inventory, Kant, Twitter, Typepad   


10/28/2009  Breaking news: Google’s got “real-time” data. But, um, “how do we rank it?”


Thanks to @jayrosen_nyu for providing today’s prompt, in the form of a link to Marshall Kirkpatrick’s coverage, for ReadWriteWeb, of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent interview at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando (http://jr.ly/n9fs ).  While much of what Schmidt had to say in the 45-minute interview was directed to business leaders, Kirkpatrick kindly excerpted “6 minutes that we believe is of interest to anyone who’s touched by the web.”   

A few highlights from those six minutes bear directly on my last two posts on the new Bing/Google/Twitter configuration.  In Schmidt’s own words:   

– “Real-time information is just as valuable as all the other information.  We want it included in our search results.”   

– “We can index real-time info now – but how do we rank it?”   

– Learning to rank user-generated info “is the greatest challenge of the age.” [emphasis added]   

Kirkpatrick concludes his report with the affirmation that “Schmidt believes Google can solve that problem.”  But whether or not this is the case, it is only responsible to ask whether it is Google’s CEO who decides what the greatest challenge of the age might be (perhaps especially when 39 of his allotted 45 minutes were addressed directly to business leaders).     

Posted at 11:04 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Bing, Eric Schmidt, Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, Google, Jay Rosen, Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb, real time search, search ranking, Twitter   


10/27/2009  Twoogle? Googlitter? Key documents, part 2

On October 21, 2009 at 2:41 P.M., @EV posted the following on the Twitter blog:   

@google  Nice!   

Our friends down in Mountain View want to organize the worlds’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  A fast growing amount of information is coursing through Twitter very quickly, and we want there to be many ways to access that information.  As part of that effort, we’ve partnered with Google to index the entire world of public tweets as fast as possible and present them to their users in an organized and relevant fashion.   

We’ve always taken an open approach to how people experience Twitter, particularly in how and where tweets are read.  Users have benefited greatly from the abundance of choice provided by our ecosystem partners.  We’re honored to take this next step with Google and tap into their expertise to support the rapid, open exchange of ideas.   

You can read more about our collaboration on the Google Blog.   [emphasis added]


RT@google:  Tweets and updates and search, oh my!  is the playful title of the update to the Google blog posted by Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience, at 2:09 P.M. (i.e., shortly before @EV posted on the Twitter blog).   

At Google, our goal is to create the most comprehensive, relevant and fast search in the world.  In the past few years, an entirely new type of data has emerged – real-time updates like those on Twitter have appeared not only as a way for people to communicate their thoughts and feelings, but also as an interesting source of data about what is happening right now in regard to a particular topic.   

Given this new type of information and its value to search, we are very excited to announce that we have reached an agreement with Twitter to include their updates in our search results.  We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months….   [emphasis added]

My own strong hunch (inscribed in the boldface of the emphasis-added) is that, when the laudatory language of all four posts is distilled, the essential consideration that remains to be thought will be time, and specifically the variable and potentially incompatible temporalities of these media and the events they seek to register and archive.   

Posted at 12:59 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: @EV, Google, Google search, Marissa Mayer, real-time updates, tweets, Twitter, Twitter search   


10/27/2009 Twing? Bitter? Key documents, part 1

Once again a perusal of the Twitter blog has opened up possibilities and necessities for reflection on Twitter, its temporalities and its impacts (current and to come) on journalism and historiography.  I am transcribing parts of these key documents here, with emphasis added where it may assist in assessing the stakes of what transpired on October 21, 2009.   

There are two posts on the Twitter blog with that dateline.  The first (the earlier, which thanks to reverse-chronology is not the first you encounter on the page) is by @BIZ, posted at 11:40 A.M. (time zone unspecified) under the title “Bing Goes the Dynamite”:   

We very firmly believe the open exchange of information can have a positive impact on the world.  Every day we see evidence supporting this belief.  Most Twitter accounts are public for a good reason – people find value in openness.  An open approach means value for users, value for partners, and value for Twitter.   

We have a team focused on delivering value from a search and discovery perspective at Twitter and they’re just getting started.  Twitter is earning a reputation for delivering real-time results to queries about things that are happening right now.  Moreover, there are already tens of thousands of Twitter apps and more to come because people want the choice to consume and create tweets wherever and whenever they prefer.  The folks over at Bing took a keen interest in Twitter and worked fast to establish a working relationship with us in line with an open approach.   

You can read more about Bing’s new Twitter search on their blog or just try it out. Twitter is providing Bing access to the overwhelming deluge of public, real-time tweets rushing in from all around the world so they can help you find those that make the most sense right now.  While Twitter currently presents tweets based simply on timeliness, Bing is experimenting with new solutions such as “best match.”  We hope more working relationships with organizations in the search business will mean even more variety for our users.   

Because of our open approach there are many ways to interact with Twitter, and there will be many more to come.  As we work to mature our service and platform offerings, we also hope to develop meaningful relationships with companies that share our vision of creating value for everyone involved – especially users.  Whether it’s emerging startups, big companies, or people simply sharing information, we’re establishing successful partnerships.  Also, it’s fun.  [emphasis added] 

It sounds like fun.  So I was quick to click on the link directing me to the Bing blog, which turned out to be their “community page.”  There I found a post dated October 21, 10:24 A.M. (again, no time zone given, but in any event the posting predates that of @BIZ on the Twitter blog).  Authored by Paul Yiu and the Bing Social Search Team, it is entitled “Bing is bringing Twitter search to you.”   

One of the most interesting things going on today on the Internet is the notion of the real time web.  The idea of accessing data in real time has been an elusive goal in the world of search.  Web indexes in search engines update at pretty amazing rates, given what it takes to crawl the entire web and index it for searching, but getting that to ‘real time’ has been challenging.   

The explosive popularity of Twitter is the best example of this opportunity.  Twitter produces millions of tweets every minute on every subject you can imagine.  The power of those tweets as a form of data that can be surfaced in search is enormous.  Innovative services like Twitter give us access to public opinion and thoughts in a way that has not before been possible.  From important social and political issues to keeping friends up to date on the minute-by-minute of our daily lives, the web is getting more and more real time.   

Search has to keep up…. today at Web 2.0 we announced that working with those clever birds over at Twitter, we now have access to the entire public Twitter feed and have a beta of Bing Twitter search for you to play with (in the U.S., for now).  Try it out.  The Bing and Twitter teams want to know what you think….  [emphasis added] 

I’d also like to know what you think, but not before you read my next post.   

Posted at 11:53 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: @BIZ, Bing, Bing Twitter search, Paul Yiu, real time web, Twitter, twitter blog, twitter search   10/26/2009


10/26/2009  No end in sight

Monday morning and I am still facing my half-read printout of “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” (http://cjr.org/reconstruction/the_reconstruction_of_american.php?page=all ), the report by Leonard Downie, Jr. and Michael Schudson, published on October 19 in the Columbia Journalism Review, which has already been through the critical ringer on Twitter.  I promised myself I’d have it read and processed before this past weekend, to enable timely and substantive commentary, but the truth is that at the halfway point I became convinced – prematurely, I admit – that I had already read the report’s single most interesting line.  I cite it here in the context of the paragraph in which it appears.   

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs.  Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know.  “It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,” says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.”   

While I’m sure that the CJR report, skewered as it’s been in some circles, offers other formulations pertinent to the fledgling project, this one resonated in the circumscribed context of my own ongoing reflection on the purpose of this weblog.  While it does not set out to “report” in any conventional sense, it is certainly written with the goal of telling people – my handful of readers, now and to come – things they don’t know.  And the mostly unpredictable ways in which the posts are prompted, how they unfold and where they wind up, more often than not tell me stuff I don’t know, or didn’t know I knew.   

I promise to finish “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” but I can’t say whether I will return to it here.  What I will pledge to take up is the matter of how reading Twitter with an eye to its impact on journalism and historiography involves an ongoing negotiation between reading individual tweets (in all their idiosyncracy) and theorizing microblogging in general, conceptual terms.  There is no end in sight.   

Posted at 11:19 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: ” Twitter, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism, blogging, Columbia Journalism Review, Leonard Downie Jr., Michael Schudson, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tim McGuire   


10/23/2009  Minister Twitter remembers

One factor that makes blogging a) different from the kinds of writing I’m used to, and b) likely to keep me engaged for some time to come, is this:  I don’t sit down at the keyboard with an outline or a set agenda, but rather take my prompts where I find them each day (these tend to fall within the framework of the blog’s long-term project).  At this stage, anyway, I often come across a promising starting point while scrolling through my Twitter homepage each morning, without knowing where it might lead. Today, for example, I am taking my cues from three tweets posted by someone I have recently begun to follow.    

Of the individuals I track on Twitter, Shashi Tharoor is to my mind among the more compelling.  His profile lists his location as New Delhi, though his tweets, from all over the map, prove him to be highly peripatetic.  His Twitter bio, by definition abbreviated, retains the quality of an impressive cv:  “author, humanitarian, peacekeeper, columnist, former UN Under-Secretary General, now Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt. of India.”  He is also the recently elected MP for the district of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala state (contracted to “Tvm” for tweeting), which I knew, having followed the Indian elections earlier this year.   


[The blog from which I borrowed this photo, http://alexp0205.wordpress.com/, includes a post entitled “Shashi Tharoor removes his own posters,” which quotes the then-candidate on his soon-to-be constituency:  “This is a beautiful town, and I don’t want politics to disfigure it.”]   

But it was less my interest in this accomplished and multifaceted figure than the content of one (then two, then three) of his tweets from yesterday, October 23, 2009, that kick-started this post.  I first ran across this one, which I promptly saved to favorites:  “Oct 23: day I lost my father, Chandran Tharoor, at age 63, 16 years ago. Still feel the pain of profound loss.  But now he’s always with me”.  I then noted another tweet from the same time frame:  “Oct 23:  commemoration of great Tvm fighter Achamma Cherlan who led peoples march for dem rights & responsible govt on 23.10,1938” – hence 71 years ago.  Around nine hours later, Shashi posted yet another commemorative tweet with the same dateline:  “Oct 23:  happy birthday to @23jacob, the man who put me on Twitter!”    

The fact that Minister Tharoor was prompted to tweet – thrice in one day – in commemoration of persons and events of importance to him is itself remarkable, and says a good deal about his relationship to Twitter. To dispatch tweets that range from birthday wishes to the person who “put me on Twitter,” to the remembrance of a historic civil rights march in his home district, to marking the anniversary of his father’s death – these are indications that the author takes the medium seriously, and that he may indeed warrant his nickname, “Minister Twitter.”   

In keeping with the objectives of this blog, which pertain to the impacts of Twitter and other social media on the history and historiography of our time, I would pause for a moment over the tweet that went out in commemoration of the death of the writer’s father.  Very likely these lines mark only one of several ways in which this anniversary was kept.  Of broader interest, perhaps, are the idea and the practice of commemorating by way of a medium – Twitter – that is characterized by frenzy and fragmentation.  A tweet is, apart from a vapour or a shadow, the furthest thing from a monument; indeed, it is barely an inscription (though it can be of course be archived).  What is the intention – and more importantly the effect – of commemorating a death (and so a life), in this most ephemeral of media?  It is an exercise “too poignant and too transitory,” to cite William Wordsworth, writing in his Essays Upon Epitaphs. More remains to be said on this matter, as time allows.   

Key excerpts from Wordsworth’s text are at http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/unlocked/wordsworth/essays-upon-epitaphs.html

Posted at 01:31 PM in Current Affairs, Film, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Essays upon Epitaphs, Minister Twitter, Shashi Tharoor, tweet, Twitter, Wordsworth   


10/22/2009  Biodegradability and the cultural compost: “And so human life is enriched”


In general, I bristle with indignation at any post or tweet (or ad, or conversation, for that matter) that begins with “Best piece you’ll read today….”, or words to that effect.  This may be due to the indelible memory of the prophecy delivered by the chair of a department to which I had applied for a job long (indeed a lifetime) ago.  After my lecture, having escorted me to my accommodations for the night, he announced with perfect confidence: “This is the nicest hotel you will ever stay in.”  Never mind that the chair of a university  English department that wanted to hire me had just ended a sentence with a preposition.  I was outraged at the assumption that a Victorian guest house in a third-tier destination was to be the apex of my travel experience.  Over the next several years I wantonly booked and stayed at several lavish havelis and converted palace hotels in Rajasthan; in ultra-hip boutique hotels with room service from great restaurants in New York; in Willa Cather’s auratic cottage with spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy; in a converted 16th-century monastary high in the Sierra Madre in Puebla state… and in so many other unforgettable spots that I’ve in fact forgotten what the bloody small-town guesthouse in [________] even looked like.   

As I was saying…I don’t respond well to anyone telling me in advance what I will think or how I will experience something.  But because @NiemanLab is often a Twitter resource worth exploring, because its links usually net me something worthwhile on journalism and social media, I clicked through to what proved to be an interesting site, new to me, called posterous (http://mbattles/posterous.com/ ), which includes a blog authored by Matthew Battles entitled library ad infinitum:  the republic of letters and the storm called progress. His post of October 21, 2009, under the title “the novel dies a thousand deaths,” reproduces part of a letter from the novelist F.Marion Crawford to Stewart Gardner, dated August, 1896.   

“The old fashioned novel is really dead, and nothing can revive it nor make anybody care for it again.  What is to follow it?…A clever German who is here suggested to  me last night that the literature of the future might turn out to be the daily exchange of ideas of men of genius – over the everlasting telephone of course – published every morning for the whole world….”   


Battles is right to call this a “rich quote,” which can be viewed from several angles.  Here are his thoughts on the matter:   

In the first [way to look at it], Crawford’s vision is prophetic, if hasty.  The nascent, steampunk, fin-de-siecle telephone network took a century to evolve into an internet.  The struggle now is to comprehend and accommodate a daily exchange of ideas not among “men of genius,” but among everyone with a connection.   

But another way to spin this is to recognize the apolcalyptic mode for what it is:  not a harbinger, but a self-renewing mode of modern consciousness.  The telephone didn’t kill the novel; neither did radio, television, or rock ‘n’ roll.  Yesterday, Barnes and Noble announced that its own ebook reader, the nook, will connect using the AT&T wireless network – the evanescent digitized great-grandchild of Ma Bell (who was still in utero in Crawford and Gardner’s time).   

I like to think the two perspectives aren’t contraditory.  Eras end, media grow old, new modes of consciousness emerge.  And so human life is enriched.   

Matthew ends his post on a high note (memo to self – maybe that’s what it takes to get the quantity and quality of the comments he elicited).  In response, his reader Tim wrote a thoughtful and supportive message (“I absolutely believe this – so much so that I wrote my dissertation about it!”), which ended with a link that, via several other links (too many to reproduce), led me to the transcript of a BBC radio broadcast aired in July 1927.  In that programme, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf debated a question that they had proposed to the producers in advance:  “Are Too Many Books Written and Published?”  The edited transcript, compiled by my colleague Melba Cuddy-Keane from pages preserved in the BBC Written Archives Centre and published in the journal PMLA (vol. 121, #1, January 2006, 235-244), is of great interest to the literary and cultural historian. I take this occasion simply to note down several of Virginia’s arguments (Leonard’s are also carefully drawn), with an eye to their potential value for reading across media in our own historical moment.   


V.W.  Yes, that is one of the great drawbacks of books.  They last a lifetime.  They take up space on our walls for ever.  They need dusting for ever.  How many times, after all, is one going to read the same book through?  Of all the books in your library how many have you read twice?  Yet there they stand, unopened and, I am afraid, often undusted, month after month and year after year.  What is wanted is some system by which private libraries could be thrown open to other people, so that readers living in the same neighbourhood could use each other’s books.  The present system, by which each of us has a certain number of books locked up doing nothing on his shelves is the most wasteful that could be invented.   

The concepts of waste and waste management will be of interest, along with the unavoidable matter of biodegradability and what we might term the cultural compost.   

V.W.:  ….Books will have to be cheaper.  Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do.  Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years.  The life of the average book is perhaps three months.  Why not face this fact?  Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time?  If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound.  Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so.  No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected – an ideal state of things in my opinion….   


No space wasted, no dirt collected.  Fine rules for a blog post.   

Posted at 02:10 PM in Books, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Anselm Kiefer, BBC, ebook reader, Leonard Woolf, Matthew Battles, Melba Cuddy-Keane, Nieman Lab, novel, PMLA, posterous, Twitter, Virginia Woolf   


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