Anyone who reads David Pogue’s technology column in the New York Times (Thursday, in the business section) knows that he’s hot for Twitter, the social networking/microblogging/what should we call it? thing that lets us send out short announcements all day long about what we’re doing.
I think that marks a Twitter tipping point, because Twitter is popping up all over, in places I wouldn’t have expected. It’s a serious business application now. Millions of people, all day long, are sending out thoughts and observations, getting questions answered, letting the world know what they’re up to. Frank Eliason, customer service manager for Comcast (the cable TV/phone/Internet provider), realized he could use that. He could search Twitter for references to Comcast (or “Comcrap”), find people with Comcast complaints, and then contact these people to get the complaint resolved. (Note that all tweets — Twitter messages — are public, so this isn’t an invasion of privacy.)
And that’s just one random way in which Twitter is exploding. Hospitals use it — go here and here for more. One hospital used Twitter as a teaching tool for surgery, A surgical procedure (quite a complex one) was shown on video, while doctors on the surgical team sent tweets about what, exactly, they were doing. You can get the tweets on any cellphone that can go on the Web.
Do we all see how useful this could be for music? An orchestra gives a concert. Someone sends commentary tweets, in real time while the music plays, describing what’s going on. I don’t know how pinpoint the time accuracy might be, so maybe you can’t time something precisely to a downbeat. But you could certainly indicate major sections of a piece.
But it gets better. You could have a dozen Twitter streams. What does the conductor think about, while she’s conducting the piece? What’s the hardest part for the principal flute? What passage in the horns makes the principal trumpet player’s hair stand on end? All kinds of people in the orchestra could send tweets during the performance, or rather could write them in advance, and have them sent out at the proper time by others. Someone in the audience could decide which Twitter streams to follow, or could follow them all.
(A few years ago I was involved with a project called the Concert Companion, which delivered real-time program notes to handheld devices. People who tested the system mostly loved it, but look what was needed — special handhelds, and a special system broadcasting to them in wifi. Cumbersome, expensive. Now you can do it all with cellphones, laptops, and the web, maybe not with pinpoint accuracy, as I said, but certainly some version of it will work.)
Some classical music institutions already use Twitter, as well they should, for marketing. You can sign up to follow anyone who sends out tweets, and if you sign up for a classical music insitution, you’ll probably get tiny press releases, sometimes only once every couple of weeks. This, needless to say, isn’t how Twitter should be used. Tweets need to be livelier, more frequent, and more personal. For something better, follow the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra or the Museum of Modern Art, whose Twitter feed talks about all kinds of art things, even some that aren’t at the museum (
though I haven’t seen any tweets since before Valentine’s Day). (Added later: The best LACO tweets are here.)
MOMA — whose tweets (and this is how Twitter ought to work) come from a real person, with a name, even has Twitter conversations with some of the 5000-odd people who’ve signed on to follow. Which is another key to proper use of social networking. It goes both ways. You talk to the people who care about you, and they talk back to you.
I’ve blogged about social networking before. Classical music institutions need to learn how to use it. As a friend of mine says (he’s a mangement consultant), they’re using new media mainly to deliver the messages older media were good for. We can do better.
You can follow me on Twitter. Not the same as the blog — more personal.