Jump in Sam! The water’s fine.

When explaining to the uninitiated, I usually equate Twitter with swimming.

No matter how much you watch other people do it, ask people to explain it, even read instruction manuals about it, you will never know what it is like to swim until you get in the water and start paddling. Twitter is the same. Lurking is the swimming equivalent of sitting in the shallows, retweeting is like floating around on a tyre-tube, and one-way megaphone tweets are like doing the Australian crawl on the picnic table.

Without fully immersing oneself in Twitter there is no way to learn how it feels, how it works, and what actions are needed to get around and have fun.

And so it was, when I read Sam Roggeveen’s piece today on how Twitter has caused a “barrenness of Australia’s political blogosphere”, I thought “this guy hasn’t even got out of the spa yet.”

My observation proved to be correct. Roggeveen (@SamRoggeveen) is a newcomer to Twitter, having apparently joined on 22 March 2012 in order to be the guest tweeter on Lateline. Since then he’s responded to a couple of tweets and otherwise only tweeted links to articles or blog posts. The last tweet was on 23 April (for the article in question) and he’s managed a total of 24 tweets in the entire time he’s been on Twitter (ten of those were for Lateline).

So he’s certainly not a Michael Klim in the Twittersphere; not even akin to that guy you know who does laps at the local pool every lunchtime.

So, having established how much Roggeveen actually knows about Twitter (because knowledge in this case can only be based on experience*), lets turn to his theory.

Roggeveen bemoans that political blogging has not taken off in Australia the same way that it did in the US in the early 2000s – that “Australia has political blogs, but it doesn’t have a political blogosphere”. He explains:

What’s the difference? Networks. On its own, a blog is a powerful instrument; a platform that allows anyone to post opinion, analysis and information that could conceivably be read by millions.

But blogging reaches its full promise when all those voices form a network [a blogosphere]…. What blogs exploit is the internet’s power for conversation. But that conversation can only be sustained by high numbers of bloggers and readers and their mutual desire to engage with one another.

Roggeveen argues that Twitter has usurped this model of blogging in Australia, because conversational energy is focussed on the newer social media platform. He says Twitter has become the new toy of the political class “who are now enjoying the network effects of Twitter, getting a new distribution channel for their ideas, instant feedback and tips for new reading”.

“This emulates the effects of the blogosphere,” writes Roggeveen, “but in a more feverish and less reflective environment.”

None of these observations are untrue, but they demonstrate a narrow understanding of Twitter by Roggeveen, who eventually concludes:

“In taking up Twitter… the Australian political class have embraced a good tool at the expense of a better one. What sets the blogosphere apart is the way it can harness the power of networks, exploit previously hidden pockets of expertise, and encourage genuine conversation.”

Only a person who knows little about Twitter could make such an erroneous statement. Firstly, Roggeveen has no awareness of the cross-fertilisation that occurs between blogs and Twitter. Sometimes people blog to expand on a topic they started discussing on Twitter, or conversely they debate the merits of a blog post with other interested parties on Twitter.

If Roggeveen spent some time in the deep end he’d know that political blogging communities have been created, not destroyed, through the networking power of Twitter.  There’s nothing more engaging for political tragics on Twitter than to watch esteemed political observers share and debate their perspectives with each other or political players. An added frisson is when the conversants are respected combatants from across party lines.

Many a blog post has been by sparked by a writer watching or engaging in such conversations, which would have been impossible if not for the unprecedented reach and immediacy of engagement that Twitter provides.

Roggeveen says that only blogs can “exploit previously hidden pockets of expertise”. I say bollocks to that. Never in a million years would I have been exposed to the range of expert political minds and perspectives that I encounter and engage with every day if it wasn’t through Twitter. Without the upstart micro-blogging platform I would never have had the “genuine conversations” that Roggeveen claims only blogs can deliver, which have in turn challenged, tested and reshaped my own political philosophies.

Conversations like these, and the many other conversations that they spawn, have created a strong network of political bloggers in Australia. Without Twitter most would never have known the others existed. Instead, some meet in real life for a tweetup, others read and comment on each other’s blogs, some even promote other bloggers to their own loyal readers.

This vibrant, argumentative, thoughtful, and delightfully articulate world that encompasses both Twitter and blogging bears no resemblance to the “barren political blogosphere” that Roggeveen seems to inhabit. I can only conclude that it’s only his own blog that is barren.

So I say to Sam Roggeveen, “Jump in! The water’s fine!” so that he can share in the rich political conversation and bountiful networks that the Twittersphere can provide.

Post script: Sam responded to this post on the blog that he edits for The Lowy Institute, The Interpeter. Unfortunately I could not leave a comment on his post because The Interpreter has a “no comments” policy.

*If I’m wrong, by all means show me the person who truly understands the dynamics of Twitter without spending considerable time experiencing its ebbs and flows and engaged in conversations of one sort or another.