A Nightmare in 140 Characters or Less

twitter.gifI know I can't shut up about Twitter, I know it. Because I love it so. But this NPR feature challenging "Song of the Day" editor Stephen Thompson to tweet reviews of a bunch of new albums--thus using no more than 140 characters per album--seems an awful lot like asking a chicken to decide whether it would care to apply its own spice rub or barbecue sauce.

(At left: Thar she blows; Twitter's "Fail Whale.")

Of course a review can be distilled into one or two sentences. We critics do it all the time and call them capsule reviews, and sometimes they distil exactly what you, the critic, wanted them to say even better and with more precision than the full review. However, the point is that a full review, complete with (hopefully) in-depth analysis, relevant comparisons and maybe a little history, still exists, even if it only exists in a form that's about half the length that it was maybe a decade ago.

I'm not saying you can't tweet a review. You can, and plenty of people do. I'm saying that tweeting a review in its entirety misses out on one of Twitter's major strengths: turning people on to something cool. While self-contained tweets get retweeted--that is, repeated to one's own Twitter followers with credit given to the original tweeter--the tweets that spread like avian flu are those with a link attached, usually a link to a larger story, but also occasionally to a song, video, photo, anything that enhances one's content. Because people naturally want to know more about a subject that interests them, not less. 

Twitter, with its easy dissemination of information and brief, intriguing tweets-as-bait, offers a gateway to a larger discussion of the arts. Why turn it into a dead end?

July 6, 2009 8:57 PM | | Comments (2)


Right, thanks. Fixed it--more proof that copy editors are invaluable, even as their ranks are dwindling.

140 words would be great. But Twitter only allows 140 characters - a significant difference.

To your larger point: I'd argue that a Tweeted review does help spark discussion and build interest. To judge from my experience of Twitter, just about anything can spark a discussion.

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