Here’s a thing you probably haven’t noticed unless you relentlessly follow a niche tech and tech media crowd on Twitter (and heaven help you if you do):
At some point this winter, entrepreneur, investor, and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen unleashed a peculiar new style of Twitter rant on his 109,000 followers. Beginning with a simple “1/”, Andreessen began to launch off on blog post-length lectures, 140 characters at a time. Many are 10 or 15 tweets long and shot off in rapid succession. The diatribes can be quite frequent, sometimes appearing multiple times per day.
Chris Dixon, one of Andreessen’s colleagues at Andreessen Horowitz, aptly coined it the “tweetstorm™.”
Multiple tweet screeds are nothing new on Twitter and transcend any specific group of users. BuzzFeed found the multiple tweet convention dating back to 2007 (there are probably even earlier examples/iterations):
The multi-tweet is, by all measures, a perfectly normal bit of Twitter behavior; sometimes an important thought or piece of news runs over 140 characters. There are even platforms, like TwitLonger, which allow users to attach a longer message to tweets to work around the 140 character rule. However, what sets Andreessen’s tweetstorm™ apart from the conventional multi-tweet is any indication of anticipated length. Instead, a tweetstormer™ gives no real indication how long it’s going to take and assumes that the reader is more than OK with this.
A tweetstorm™ will often start with a profound thought or open-ended question of some sort as a wind-up. The “1/” serves as the readers’ only early warning, which one can read as a Jim Carrey-esque inhale before delivering a breathless rant. An example:
In mere months, tweetstorms™ have become one of Tech Twitter’s greatest scourges, not for their insights (which can be valuable), but for their ability to clog a timeline at a moment’s notice — a phenomenon entrepreneur Anil Dash described to BuzzFeed as “timeline colonialism.”
Reaction to the tweetstorm’s™ rise has been mixed. Plenty are happy with Andreessen’s return to Twitter and plenty in the tech world relish the opportunity to receive real-time impromptu lectures from well-known industry veterans (access to influential people, celebrities, and brilliant minds have always been strengths of Twitter). Others take issue with the fact that they’re hard to follow and easy to miss all together in the torrent of information on Twitter (and they’re right — they are!). “Get a blog!” they say.
To be fair, after one such screed in February about the future of media, Andreessen consolidated the tweets into a comprehensive, very readable blog post. It was widely shared in the circles that spend time obsessing over such topics.
The fundamental criticism of the tweetstorm™ goes beyond the simple “get a blog” mentality. At its root, the tweetstorm™ feels like an abuse of power/influence or, at the very least, a slightly inconsiderate, oblivious way to engage with people who’ve chosen to follow you (granted, users can obviously choose to opt-out at any time with an unfollow). In earnestly embarking on a tweetstorm™, the tweetstormer™ is tacitly admitting that he or she has many important things to say and an infinite listener attention span in which to say them.
Worse than any thing else, though, the tweetstorm™ is showing signs that it might be catching on in the industry:
Imagine, for a moment, a future version of Twitter where the tweetstorm™ convention spreads, bleeding first through the tech venture capital and entrepreneur community. Then the tech reporters catch on, issuing long monologues on the future of the industry/a given product. Tweetstorms™ are rebutted by other tweetstorms™, which is manageable and contained in a niche media sphere until Politics Twitter catches on. Always on the lookout for a new broadcast platform, the tweetstorm™ spreads from reporters to pundits and think tanks and then to the politicians themselves. Once a frenetic but followable place, your timeline is now virtually destroyed by an avalanche of soliloquies.
This could be our future. We must stay vigilant.