Qwitter, the Darwinian side of social networks


Twitter is the web service that perfectly epitomizes the information sharing addiction of our age. The micro-blogging platform allows users to create a constant flow of short text-based messages (tweets) that can be spread with different systems, such as SMS, RSS or Instant Messaging. Updates usually concern everyday activities and trivial thoughts, and are shared among circles of friends. It has been argued that getting constant updates from the social network helps the user to develop a sort of social sixth sense that facilitates face-to-face relations, but many commentators see Twitter as the most pointless and addictive internet fad. Qwitter is an additional web service in the Twitter ecosystem that might be seen either as a tongue-in-cheek satire or as a smart exploitation of micro-blogging’s intrinsic weaknesses. Qwitter, not affiliated with Twitter, interfaces with the main system and provides a missing feature: the notification of the users that unsubscribe to your updates. The “quitters” will be exposed with a message like: “John Gruber (gruber) stopped following you on Twitter after you posted this tweet: What’s the difference between Arial and Helvetica?”. The implications of this simple notification are far from trivial. It’s often implied that the sharing of every social gesture strengthens the network, Facebook’s news feed that tracks all the interactions among friends turned out to be its most successful implementation. But Qwitter intervenes in an ambiguous territory pushing information sharing toward the paradox and potentially disrupting the mood that informs platforms like Twitter. Is Qwitter an effort to educate people to more responsible and meaningful acts of communication? Intentionally or not, it provides a sharp commentary of the attention economy in the age of web 2.0: if everybody can communicate, everybody is in perpetual competition. Qwitter simply reveals the Darwinian downside of this economy.

Paolo Pedercini