“It’s like a blog only smaller”. I’m talking to my teenage cousin about Twitter. She explains Twitter is like a blog, but what I really had asked her was “Why do you use Twitter?” However, I think she is simply accustomed to older people, like myself, interrogating her habit. Maybe she assumes reference to the larger realm of social media that Twitter fits within will help. Tweeters typically do not think about why they Tweet, I would compare it to taking pictures. Photographers typically are not interrogated about the meaning of photography (unless it’s a controversial photograph), the technology is domesticated, deemed to be a fixture of a particular cultural space for the most part. Thus, my questions did not seem relevant to my cousin, I needed a new interrogation strategy, so I gave up my disguise as an uninterested bystander, and admitted I needed her accounts for my Gender and Social media class blog. I recently and unexpectedly moved from my apartment downtown, and I now share space with an extreme Tweeter. By extreme I mean she is Tweeting about this conversation as we are having it. Yet I was multi-tasking as well, reading Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd’s I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience, as I listened to her explanations, I began thinking about what Twitter really gives people…Something I’m sure designers are obsessing over.
Marwick and boyd use the concept ‘imagined audience’, derived from Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’, to talk about what Tweeters are up against. Anderson analyzed the imagined community in the 1980s, he was thinking in terms of how nationalism fills a gap between our ideals and reality. Marwick and boyd use ‘imagined audience’ to describe a specific communication style, one that incorporates “multiple audiences into single contexts” where there is also a gap evident between what is ideal and real in terms of what content producers can expect from their reader. For example, Shirky (and Fuch’s) both illustrate how this method of mass communication (Castell’s) is limited. Multiple audiences are possible, but in reality the user may have a limited audience. The potential exists for a user to reach many, yet this “many-to-many” focused communication style that is found on Twitter is part of the appeal. This gap between the real and potential is where Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd draw on the concept ‘imagined audience’, to illustrate how users negotiate their ideal audience in context of their use, this imagined community manifests through the users desire to Tweet.
With all this emphasis on identity making, self-presentation, and audience management, concepts that appear so central to social media and specifically Twitter, I wondered what was being done to make this ‘imagined community’ feel bounded? Surely there are folks designing with the Tweeter in mind? Thinking about what the Tweeter is thinking about. Users know how to keep their audience interested, it seems almost like intuition, or as Marwick and boyd explain, part of a successful Twitter launch is knowing what it means to look authentic. For these reasons, social media can be read as a script, a gateway into our cultural norms and ideals. Part of the users role is to know how to read these scripts, so surely someone is out there working to appease Tweeters “authentic views of themselves“? In researching this, I came across a website titled the “The Tweeted Times“, you can sign up for a personal newspaper generated from your Twitter account. It works similar to Netflix, in that the newspaper includes what is most popular on your friends list. This is one example of how Twitter’s design is shaping the content the user desires. This connects with Cooper and Dzara’s analysis of social media, where they describe how social media is designed to keep the user’s productions of self at centre. The authors state “…self-revelation is not merely an act of sharing personal details, but also an active construction of one’s perception of who one is”. This allows the Tweeter to connect to readers because the user must negotiate multiple audiences which is merged into a single action, a Tweet. In the context of “The Tweeted Times” the users production of self is the users friends list. The way the user composes a friends list will ultimatley reflect the users experience, it is interconnected similar to a blog, but perhaps only viewed as smaller in scale because it is designed to appease a self-presentation already created rather than one that is waiting to be made?