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A million conversations are going on right now on Twitter--what do they have to say to you

By Joab Jackson | Posted 8/19/2009

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Composers at the London Royal Opera House have spent the summer assembling an opera using submissions from people around the globe, using the Twitter internet micro-messaging service. "We're investigating how short, 140-character contributions can build upon each other to create a non-linear narrative," the blog for the company states.

"That's possibly the stupidest thing I've ever read," opined an acquaintance when I posted a story about this undertaking on another micro-messaging service called He's probably right, of course. It's a heroically pointless endeavor, like stuffing as many people as possible into a phone booth. If some higher function will arise from this new form of electronic communication, it probably wouldn't come from prodding it onto the opera-house stage.

Indeed, the effort seems to have already gone terribly awry. The libretto starts reasonably enough: "One morning, very early, a man and a woman were standing, arm-in-arm, in London's Covent Garden. The man turned to the woman and he sang. . . ." By the end of act one, though, the volunteer twit collective have the hero "languishing in a tower, having been kidnapped by a group of birds who are anxious for revenge after he has killed one of their number [while] The Woman With No Name is off to her biochemistry laboratory to make a potion to let people speak to the birds." We'll hold off on buying tickets.

Our newfound love for typing short messages into computer devices for others to see has already had an impact, certainly on culture--Paula Abdul announced her departure from American Idol on Twitter, after all--and even on politics. Iranians recently used Twitter to alert the world that something might have gone askew with their election. The first line of news reporting has moved away from the wire services and toward bystanders with Twitter-enabled iPhones and BlackBerrys.

While bearing all the hallmarks of a fad, could such micro-messages have a permanent presence in our lives? We are increasingly speaking, writing, even thinking in abbreviated sentences already--the newsbyte, the meme, the quote from The Simpsons that aptly sums up some absurd scenario. Now Twitter and similar functions on social-networking services such as Facebook are urging us to let our friends know what we are thinking about, and what we consider noteworthy, in such single-sentence-sized servings.

Given how quickly such internet services come and go (Friendster, anyone?), there's a pretty good chance neither service will be widely used in 10 years. But could the idea of micro-messaging (along with micro-blogging, the generic term for the Twitter post, or Tweet, and the Facebook status update) itself might just stick? If these services do indeed become a permanent part of our lives, and some argue they will, they could be the first form of media where the creativity of the consumer matters as much, if not more, than that of the producer.

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