“The Answer Will Be a Social One, Worked out Tacitly over Time”

One of the luxuries of the Web is seeing an idea you’ve written about emended and expanded by another writer. Over at Reinventing the Newsroom, Jason Fry provides just that, discussing my thoughts on Twitter lists and the tension they (may) foster between individuality and ‘identity’:

My tweets are generally about one of three things — digital journalism, the New York Mets, or Star Wars. (I’m acutely aware that I may be the only person in the world interested in all three.) When I first started tweeting, I wondered if I should create three separate Twitter personae. But it seemed like a lot of work, and I couldn’t figure out which persona I would use for the occasional tweet that was just random or personal? Would I cross-post those to all three? Rotate them? Worrying about this, all of a sudden I felt like a candidate’s image handler, and that was no fun at all. It’s just Twitter. Oh, and get over yourself.

So I let my Twitter account reflect who I really was (well, as much as any online persona truly does), and trusted anyone who cared to sort out my various interests and contradictions. (Speaking of which, you can follow me if you like.) But this worry returned with lists. Every time I got added to a list, my first reaction was to be happy, in an invited-to-an-7th-grade-party way that I wish motivated me less than it does. But my next reaction was always: Oh no, this person’s expecting tweets about journalism/Star Wars/the Mets, and my tweets about something else will screw up their list.

Garber’s thought about the same thing, and her worry is that she’ll censor herself to better fit lists’ expectations, with other people doing the same. She notes that she’s found she likes the off-topic stuff — “the little quirks of people whose ideas I admire, whose work I follow.” As do I.

It’s impossible to say how this will sort out, other than that it will be determined through the kind of ongoing, uncontrolled social experiment that’s shaped almost everything else about Twitter practices. My first thought was a technical solution: Let users modify their inclusion in lists with an internal hashtag. But that seems both complicated and like it would eat up even more of our already-precious 140 characters. No, the answer will be a social one, worked out tacitly over time. I just hope that the minutiae remain in the mix. Twitter’s a wonderful information source, but it comes with a welcome seasoning of personality and a gleeful sense of being just slightly out of control. It would be a better information source without those things, perhaps, but it would also be a less interesting place.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.