I noted, in a post titled Shifting Sands, last week that I am twittering far more than IMing these days and gave the key reason why – it’s about us, not you or me. I still think that’s the most important reason, but I have also discovered another:
Twittering is neither synchronous nor asynchronous; it lies somewhere in between.
“Whoa!”, you say. “That’s impossible.” You are correct from a technical standpoint, of course. Twittering (and microstreaming in general) is an asynchronous form of communication. There are delays between tweet publication, reading, and response. Those delays could take days or hours, but they are most often measured in minutes or even seconds. It is this broad range of possible interaction time with tweets that leads me to say that microstreaming lies somewhere in the middle of real-time and asynchronous communication.
Let me explain this further by contrasting two other forms of online communication — instant messaging and e-mail. As the name clearly states, IM is instant or synchronous. There are slight delays between message and response, but those are generally measured in seconds. If it is believed that there will be a significant delay in response, most of us would choose to send an e-mail instead. On the other hand, we may quickly receive a response to an e-mail (i.e. in a minute or two), but we don’t have that expectation when we use the medium to communicate. We clearly classify e-mail as an asynchronous communication vehicle and IM as a synchronous one.
Microstreaming seems to have a different, flexible set of expectations for communication time associated with it. In some cases, we hope for a nearly immediate response to a tweet. Other times, we really don’t care how long it takes to get a reply. In fact, we occasionally tweet with no expectation of any response whatsoever! We merely communicate a thought or feeling to the collective just to get it out of our head. These varying expectations for microstreaming communication time are what leads me to say that the channel is neither synchronous nor asynchronous, but somewhere in between.
Is temporal flexibility the secret sauce of microstreaming? Please let me know what you think.