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02/20/2009 Is Twitter the new Usenet?


Sorry Twitter, that was probably the un-sexiest headline you’ve received in a while.The other day I was having lunch with my friend Jeff Rutenbeck, dean of Champlain College’s emerging media program. Jeff is as nice and smart as they come. As I was explaining to him about my Twitter obsession, he threw out the Usenet analogy and we both started waxing poetic.

I started using Usenet in my very early days online, before the Web gained speed. It was where I could find out about almost anything and, more importantly, connect with some great people. My cinematographer friend Anders decided he wanted to shoot his next film completely with a SteadyCam. In the early 90’s there were only two fairly good SteadyCam operators in Sweden and Anders didn’t like either one of them.

Rocky460“You do it,” he said. “We’ll pay for your training through the movie budget.”

Where did I start? Usenet. After getting some great recommendations there, Gordon Brown himself contacted me. This is the Gordon who invented the SteadyCam to run up the steps in Rocky to take one of the most famous movie shots of all time. Long story short: no movie financing, and no SteadyCam training.

The Web ultimately killed Usenet and replaced it with other things.

So why is Twitter like Usenet? The thing about Usenet was that it wasn’t really a place. You accessed it through a reader or e-mail. That’s what makes Twitter feel similar: it isn’t a Web site. MySpace, Facebook, and others are sites, destinations. You connect to Twitter but you’re never really there. Web, TweetDeck, Twhirl, Tweetie, Twittelator and others provide the “space.”

Twitter has that same flow as Usenet, the flow of a fast moving river. You jump in and out at different times; you can try paddling back, but usually not to far back. Where you jump in, and with whom, are up to you. That’s what Usenet felt like.

I guess that’s why I find Twitter to be so much fun. The feeling of movement and the ability to swim with sharks (whales, dolphins?).

What do you think?

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