Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The New York Times Explains Twitter…to the New York Times

Still trying to get your head around Twitter? I hear you. I write about the much-hyped messaging service a lot. And I still don’t have an efficient way of explaining what it is, why you’d want to use it and why I use it so much.

And if it makes you feel any better, big media companies are just beginning to grapple with Twitter, too. Today’s example: The New York Times (NYT).

Here are not one but two presentations that Times software architect Jacob Harris (“I’m one of [interactive editor] Aron Pilhofer’s guys,” he explains) has given at the paper in the last year.

There are no state secrets here–Harris explains that he took out the handful of slides that suggest what the Times might actually do with Twitter before he posted them in public. And Harris stresses that this is something he did for the Times–but that it doesn’t represent Times policy in any way.

But it’s still useful and entertaining stuff. I particularly like his “why bother” passage in the second presentation, which he made this winter:

The ?rst stage for many users is soul searching, or Why Bother?

This sort of existential malaise grips most newcomers to twitter, especially if many of their friends aren’t on it….

Still it’s a good question, why would the world care what you are twittering about? And the truth is, in most cases, the world doesn’t! … But you’re not twittering to the world, you’re twittering to your friends and family. And they do care…

People who attack twitter for being mundane and banal are missing the point. It is mundane, but then again so is most of what I talk about during the day. When I’m talking to my friends we don’t quote epigrams from Voltaire or compete to create choice bon mots. We make dumb jokes, we talk about the weather, what’s on TV, our weird dreams whatever. The stupid and the trivial are the social glue of conversation.

I like to say that Twitter is stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid…

Standard disclaimer here: The fact that the NYT has thoughtful people like Harris working on tech projects is a good thing, as are all of the cool tech tweaks the paper has been making over the last few years. It also won’t help the paper solve its core problem, which is that its ad dollars are melting away (get ready for a brutal earnings report tomorrow).

But if the paper ever does solve its revenue/expense problems, it’s nice to know there are smart people ready to help it move into the 21st century. In the meantime, enjoy. You’ll want to use the “full screen” button for each slideshow in order to make it readable. Thanks to NYConvergence for flagging this.

5/2008 Presentation:


New York Times Twitter – Get more Business Documents

Winter 2009 presentation:


newyorktimestwitter2 – Get more Business Documents


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus