The recent news by Twitter of it’s intention to legitimize the RT nudged me back to a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, self organization and emergent behavior as evidenced in Twitter. In fact, the Twitter blog announcing this actually used the word emergent. Do you think Twitter demonstrates this?
Self organization exists in all types of ways, crystals and biology and urban growth. It’s the tendency towards order exhibited by various discrete elements with no central guiding mechanism. Probably one of the commonest examples everyone is familiar with is the ant colony. Ants don’t cooperate according to some vast plan, or at the direction of some ruling queen (except in a few popular animated movies!). Their activity and seeming complexity exists primarily from the interaction of various sensory cues. Cities, before urban planning, didn’t say “Let’s have a slum here, a market district here, wealthy residences there”, the pattern would just emerge implicit from the nature of the activities.
Twitter being composed of millions of tiny tweets offers an interesting study of this phenomena. There are few rules, and the simple interactions have evolved an increasing complexity to it. Retweets are a perfect example, or the hash tags, or followfridays. These weren’t designed into the system, they evolved out of necessity by the users. All the application programs for twitter were designed outside of twitter, feeding off the simple API feed.
Twitter has been criticized for not being more innovative, and for not designing more structure to it instead of letting others do it. But this is twitter’s greatest strength, it’s extreme simplicity makes it flexible and adaptive in ways no one originally conceived of. In fact, one sees a tendency now for other forms of social media to simplify, as with the new Facebook Lite. I hope Twitter doesn’t get too carried away with complicating it’s basic structure, I think it would be a mistake. Do you think Twitter should remain simple and let nature take it’s course? What do you think?