UPDATE: Turns out that what I want to do, modeled after something used for RubyConf, can’t be done in stock Twitter. Seeing if I can persuade the Twitter people to work the same magic for me.

Item: Richard P. Gabriel has this habit of making software people write or speak within artificial constraints.

  • For writers’ workshops (book-length PDF), he’s made reviewers write a summary exactly 29 words long.

  • In last OOPSLA’s “50 in 50” keynote, he and Guy Steele, Jr., covered the last five decades of programming languages in 50 segments, each exactly 50 words long (in a talk lasting, I believe, about 50 minutes).

The point of constraints is that they make you work: you can’t use the words that first come to mind. You have to struggle to say what you want while playing by the rules them—and sometimes that makes you realize you ought to be wanting to say something else. Constraints are a tool to make you think new thoughts.

Item: I’ve become strangely fond of Twitter. It’s a service that lets you send short (140 character) “tweets” out into the ether. Other people can subscribe to (”follow”) your tweets. They can see the tweets of everyone they follow by visiting their own twitter web page (here’s mine), subscribing to an RSS feed, or using a twitter-specific app to fetch tweets. (I use Twitterrific.)

That’s form: what about content? As Twitter user shalunov (Stanislav Shalunov) puts it (in a tweet):

Four main ways to tweet: ideas, news, @-chat, phatic coffee. The last is the original, rest invented by users.

Ideas are the tweets I’m most interested in. Slalunov’s is an example of an idea tweet.

News is my second interest. As a geographically isolated person, it’s one way of knowing what interesting people are chattering about.

“@-chat” is a sort of person-to-person instant messaging. For example, cypher23 wrote “Stalker is a weird and wonderful film.” I replied: @cypher23 Harrison’s new _Nova Swing_ is in the sub-sub-genre with Stalker, _Rogue Moon_, and _Roadside Picnic_. Liking it so far.” Anyone following cypher23 would see both his tweet and my reply. Someone following only me would see only my reply (but could click on the hyperlinked cypher23 to see all his recent tweets). Because of the one-sidedness, and because the topics tend to be less interesting than those in the first two categories, I tend not to follow people who have a high proportion of @-chat in their tweets.

Phatic coffee” is just tweeting what you’re doing now, like avibryant’s recent “obsessively refreshing UPS tracking page for new laptop” Although I’m somewhat of a hermit and not much for social chit-chat, I’m not immune to phaticality. (I find chadfowler’s heavily phatic tweets appealing, oddly puckish, and somehow soothing.) But I likely won’t follow someone who’s predominantly phatic.

Item: While writing a book, I often find myself disinclined to spend spare time writing blog posts. Yet I continue to have ideas. I’m sure lots of other people do too.

Synthesis: I’ve created a fake twitter user named pithysoft. It’s for anyone’s pithy tweets about software development. When I finish this post, I’ll send the first one: “d pithysoft Business-facing tests are like personal ads: No matter how exact your description, the reality always tells you something new.” People following pithysoft will see it. If the pithy claim intrigues them, they can tweet pithysoft with something like @marick More about tests and personal ads, plz”. That would encourage me to write it up on my blog. When I did that, I could tweet @pithysoft Expanded on XYX here: XYX”

An experiment. Let’s see how it goes.

One Response to “Pithysoft”

  1. Eric Lefevre-Ardant on Java & Agile » Valtech Days: twitter feed gave live updates Says:

    […] At Agile 2008 Conference in Toronto, Brian Marick told us that he wanted a way to give every participant a feel of what was being discussed, some kind of live temperature reading. Brian especially refered to Twitter as a way to do this, coupled with a screen that would display it (he seems to be a big fan of twitter). […]

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