Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Sep 2, 2007 2:16am


As one of the people responsible for Twitter Blocks (really it was Ryan and Tom who made it - on this project, I'm "management"), it's been interesting reading feedback to the project's launch. Tom summarized a particular strain of it as Criticism For Twitter Blocks. Go, read.


So we get this a lot: "Beautiful! But useless!". We've heard it in response to most projects we've done over the past few years (one exception has been Oakland Crimespotting, whose stock yokel response is: "no way am I moving to Oakland!").

By now, we're fairly accustomed to it. I've historically stayed mum, in the belief that this particular critique is best met with silence, because what is there to add? This current case rankles a bit, since a lot of those snarks are coming via Twitter, Pownce, and Jaiku messages. Twitter is practically the "fun, but useless, but oddly popular" poster child of the moment, so it's ironic to see people who've taken the leap to its particular brand of short-messaged-based playtime suddenly waxing utilitarian (for example, Dave Winer). Tom argues that it's worth focusing on fun once in a while instead of just utility, monetization, and features. I'm arguing that a lot of the people crowing "but useless!" have already taken that plunge, yet lack the self-awareness or humility to see it for what it is. There are plenty of but-useless things in the world that serve as emotional bonding points, amusements, attractions, and macguffins. Practically all of social media falls under this category for me, a form of mediated play that requires a suspension of disbelief in rational purpose to succeed.

There are of course legitimate reasons to find Twitter and Blocks annoying: Blocks likes teh CPU, not everyone enjoys frequent tiny updates from people, there are jerks in any social service, Blocks has a big Motorola ad next on it, and so on. Worries about Obvious Corp.'s business sustainability and freakouts that Blocks was launched (by us) despite the presence of bugs in Twitter are not legitimate reasons.

But, since we're on the topic, I'm going to suggest that Blocks is our hat in the ring for traversing the social graph. Unlike the friends views on the existing site, the only people who show up are guaranteed to be recently active, so there's no deadwood problem. Also unlike the existing friends view, we've introduced two dimensions to show a second degree of separation, leading to regular "I had no idea so-and-so was on Twitter" moments since the first experimental layouts were done and presented one month ago. Also, it doesn't look like some suck-ass sticks-and-rocks graph.

Sufficiently useful?

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