I’m currently forming research questions for an ethnography of Toronto-based technology and design workers. I am working through this question: is Twitter a “place”?
In her 2000 book Virtual Ethnography, Christine Hine argues that there are two analytic strategies to see “cyberspace.” First, one can view it as a “place,” where social norms emerge. Or second, one can view it as a cultural artifact. The second view allows us to see the designers behind the technology. Think of it as a hermeneutics of a technology, which allows us to see what assumptions its designers about their users (this is an approach that will make sense to interaction designers).
I believe Twitter to be a place, but one that is heavily influenced by its architects and its users. In other words, its design sets the stage for certain kinds of interactions, just as prisons, malls, and casinos do. The architecture of Twitter, which includes its dozens API-driven applications as well as its simple, Web-based interface, is constantly evolving by its network of users, API application designers, and the company of Twitter itself.
This approach suggests that Twitter has “interpretive flexibility,” which is how technology theorists argue that design is determinant; users decide how a technology will actually be used, within the confines of the material form of that technology.
Do you believe Twitter is a “place”? What kind of place? Or is Twitter a technology or technological artifact?