Twitter 2.0: Not just for narcissists

Twitter's new look is aimed at those who'd rather read than tweet. Cringely fears it may turn his brain to mush

Using Twitter is like being trapped in an elevator with someone who has a severe case of attention deficit disorder and just consumed three pots of truck-stop coffee. It's a nonstop diet of sometimes useful, sometimes funny, but mostly semi-coherent and self-serving banalities, served up in 140-character spoonfuls.

Though I use Twitter on a semi-daily basis, I rarely spend more than five minutes on Twitter.com at any one time. More than that and my brain starts to melt.

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Last night, Twitter unveiled a new design it hopes will entice people to stay on the site until their gray matter turns into guacamole.

Want to see the new Twitter in action? Good luck. As I write this, one of the biggest trending topics on Twitter is "Where the heck is the new Twitter?" The Twit-heads say they will be rolling the new version out over the next month.

In the meantime, Twitter does offer up an annoyingly Apple-esque two-minute video, half of which has nothing to do with the new design but is all about how Twitter apparently sees its users.

So if you use Twitter, you sleep late, wear casual clothing, take the bus to work, listen to vinyl albums, hang around in bookstores, drink wine, and gaze at the sky for hours on end while being followed everywhere by paper cutouts of Twitter's sky-blue "tweetie" logo. By the end of this video, I wanted to take a match to that damned bird.

Overall, the changes to Twitter are both simple and profound. Instead of one long pane containing tweets from your tweeps and compressed links to external sites, you get two panes. On the left is the usual stream of inane nattering; on the right, Twitter displays the personal profile of each tweeter, or the images, video, maps, and other stuff they are linking to.

It's much more visually appealing and -- more important for Twitter's purposes -- it doesn't force you to leave Twitter.com to learn more about who's tweeting and what they're tweeting about.

The other difference is that the new Twitter is essentially endless. You don't have to click the "more" button at the bottom; you can just keep scrolling through tweets until somebody is tempted to dip a tortilla chip into your cranium.

As Read Write Web's Richard McManus notes, this changes the essential nature of Twitter from one of participation to one of consumption -- making it more akin to YouTube than Facebook. You don't have to tweet in order to play along; you can just watch what other people are tweeting.

In other words, Twitter 1.0 was for narcissists. Twitter 2.0 is for voyeurs.

My first reaction to the new Twitter is: lt looks way cool. My second reaction is, who has time for this? I know who: casually dressed people who spend all of their time hanging out in bookstores, listening to vinyl albums, and gazing at the stars -- i.e., the unemployed.

Hey, at least they picked a large target market. Give them props for that.

Are you going to use Twitter 2.0? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

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