Twitterverse getting shirty with Kirsty misses the twood for the twees

So did twitter really suffer a denial-of-service attack last night or was it just overwhelmed by massive interest from Newsnight viewer newbies?

Evan Williams, the Twitter chief executive, was interviewed by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight on Wednesday night. This post was delayed because my addled brain could not dredge up a Will Rogers quote and google was slow in forthcoming, but here it is at last:

“An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.”

You would think I could have remembered that, given how many ignorant people I know. Trust a vaudevillain to put humourous wisdom in such simple words. Plus, fulfilling the most important criterion for any post-2008 pith, it amounts to fewer than 140 characters.

In a “but how will it make money?” crusade led by the Guardian, Charles Arthur, the paper’s technology editor, prefaced the headline of the interview’s transcript with “Read it and weep”. And from that objective standpoint, things went downhill: “Newsnight got the ‘first British TV interview’ with Twitter co-founder and chief executive Evan Williams. What did they ask him about? Demi Moore. Then it went downhill,” guardian/co.uk/technology wrote.

Lest I be accused of imbalance, my colleague Shane Richmond wrote ‘Is Newsnight a form of journalism?’

The truth is, I read both pieces and many tweets on the subject and did indeed almost weep. The gist seems to be that those few who are already aware of this service and care about its business model deserve priority over the unwashed masses who still get most of their news from the television and for whom all of this is still a discovery.

If James Dyson were on the show, would the host ask about the business plan for his new design of vacuum cleaner, or would she ask how it worked, what makes it different, does it suck more than previous models?

Which served the viewer better – the assumption of no previous knowledge or asking how Twitter will pay (probably a secret), a knowing wink to existing users (a bit naff) and the navel-gazing that only tech journos can muster (a bit off-putting to anyone but tech journos)?

Let he whose paper has not run rubbish Twitter celeb stories cast the first stone. Or perhaps not.

My own critique of Evan Williams? If anything, Mr Williams looked underprepared for basic questions that most of us have already heard answered online. That is not much of an excuse for not having his quips polished for his first British TV interview.

Maybe Mr Williams missed the wood for the trees – keep it simple is great advice, never more so than when explaining technology to the over-40s. The twitter fans, myself included, are not going to ditch it based on a deer-caught-in-the-headlines interview such as Wednesday’s. But the lacklustre defence of admittedly obvious attack questions is not going to encourage many over-40 newbies to try it out.

Maybe he was lulled into a false sense of security by the twitter faithful? Maybe he (like many of the twitter-obsessed) was expecting Miss Wark to have read the TechCrunch-leaked documents and grill him on Twitter’s business plan and the service’s scalability?

Scalability? What in the name of god is that, I can hear my mother ask. But if Demi Moore is on it … i might give it a look.

Can we chalk the @ev #newsnight debacle down to another MSM misunderstanding? Well, no. Expectations are too high if they demand that Miss Wark ask Mr Williams in-depth questions that assume an intimate knowledge of his product. She does not run a tech blog – she hosts a general news show. Cue basic questions assuming no previous knowledge – on behalf of the viewer, not necessarily of Miss Wark.

Do I know what YouTube is? Yes, but every time it crops up in copy, I will try to add “the video-sharing website” because I cannot smugly assume that everyone shares my earth-shattering knowledge of the internets.

Quintillian wrote: “We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us”.

That I have repeated the quote as by Harold Evans shows what I know, but those of us with the benefit of hyperlinks, near-instant feedback and, let’s face it, a much younger audience, would do well to remember those words.

After all, gents, the questions were nowhere near as offensive as a BBC presenter showing too much leg.

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  1. Mr O'Passport-holder-Price

    I’m not a Twitter user though did think it was useful when we were last in company and you had that flash about Michael Jackson dying.

    But even as a non-tweeter (and someone not necessarily sympathetic) I thought it was a poor interview for both parties with over-aggressive questions from her and pat answers – perhaps too used to playing soft ball – from him.

    The whole thing, actually, was rather imbecilic and I finished none the wiser. Not what one expects from Newsnight. Tut tut.

    ===

    Meanwhile, in a case of the tail wagging the dog, I had last night to explain to our print audience what a denial of service attack was.

    • finoreilly

      You should give it more of an extended try – it really does grow on you.
      I didn’t mean to give the impression that I thought it a fantastic interview, merely that switching the emphasis to topics of much narrower interest to the general public would not have improved it. I did think the package beforehand was quite good and much more enlightening for a new user than the interview with the ceo.
      I look forward to evaluating your technical writing skills on the way to work.




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