The PhoneBoy Blog


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Twitter and The Mix Tape

Back when I was in college, I had a stereo with a dual cassette recorder and a CD player. This was fairly common back in the early 1990s. The king of “personal music devices” back in those days was the walkman. Bulky by today’s standards, but if you wanted music on the go, that was it.

I still have my last walkman from those days. Not sure when I bought my last one, to be honest, as I used it into the early 2000s. It’s not a Sony, but it got the job done.

Another thing I have from those days is my collection of mix tapes. For those who are either too young or too old, a mix tape is a collection of music from different sources put onto a personal cassette tape that you listened to in your car or your walkman. The desire to make mix tapes was one reason people opted for dual-cassette stereos, not to mention outright copying of other people’s tapes

Mix tapes were typically on ninety minute cassettes, which meant two forty-five minute sides. Cassettes are not random access, either, they are linear. And decent cassettes weren’t cheap, either.

Because of these limitations, not to mention the fact you actually had to play a song all the way through to record it on a cassette tape, it took some work–and time–to come up with a decent mix tape. The end result was, dare I say it, a work of art in and of itself.

The limits of a cassette tape seem silly today. Carrying literally thousands of songs on something smaller than a cassette tape is not entirely uncommon. I can’t imagine carrying around a walkman and cassettes anymore like I used to back in the day.

How does this relate to Twitter? I’m glad you asked.

Twitter has some seemingly arbitrary limits. The two most often complained about are the 140 character limit per status update and the lack of threaded conversations. There are others, of course.

Within those arbitrary limits, some interesting things have emerged:

  • Conversations. @ replies were not part of the original specification for Twitter (e.g. using @phoneboy in your tweet to indicate a response to me), but as users used Twitter, this was adopted as the standard.
  • URL Shorteners: Tinyurl.com had been around pre-Twitter, but the development of these services took off once people started sharing URLs on Twitter. Anything to get more content in 140 characters.
  • Picture sharing services: These have been around forever, but a number of new ones were created since Twitter and other similar services started taking off.
  • RSS Reader, anyone?: Because people share URLs on Twitter, for many people, Twitter has become their RSS reader. Instead of following 100+ blogs, just read the URLs that come off of your followers on Twitter. I personally do a mix: follow a smaller subset of blogs and use my Twitter stream for the rest.
  • Other apps that use Twitter for signaling: Phweet is one example, but there are plenty of others that I can’t think of right now.
  • The re-tweet: If you like something someone else said, you re-Tweet it. However, you want to give the person credit who originally said it. If you want to make tweets that can be re-tweeted easily, you have to make the tweets shorter than 140 characters (say, 120).

Me? While I make use of these services just like everyone else, I do find the 140 character limits liberating in a sense. Whereas on a blog post, I have an infinite slate to work with, in Twitter, I have 140 characters. I have to get right to the point. Sometimes crafting those 140 characters takes time, just like the mix tapes used to.

The point is: limits aren’t entirely bad. Sometimes it’s those limits that are necessary to unleash creativity. Meanwhile, I’m working to bring my mix tapes into the 21 century.

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