Twitter becomes TWTR

Just as market-watchers like to know how the market opens—up or down—so heavy Twitter users like to know how Twitter opens. Today, as of 9 a.m., it was flat. #Obamacare, #Thanksgiving. Snooze. The only flicker of real action was around a new trending topic: #TwitterIPO.

Of course, unlike the market, Twitter never closes. But Twitter does have quieter hours when most American smartphones, across timezones, snooze.

And in that hush Twitter’s compelling character emerges: late-night comedy, lonely poetry and the odd after-hours crime, accident, weather disaster or actual global news event, not yet framed for Twitter by ideologues or wags.

By the time the east coast Twitter crowd, not to mention New Orleans, Des Moines and San Diego, clock into Twitter, the rawness of the overnight tweets is beginning to get cooked.

This morning as for most of the last few weeks, “#Obamacare” was a trending topic, heavily in use by those with doubts about it, including especially the #tcot—”top conservatives on Twitter,” who tag their tweets like that to make their presence known.

The #tcot crowd use hashtags cannily, and aim to monopolize them. Someone new to Twitter, surfing the hashtag #Obamacare, would be hard-pressed to find a supporter of it, since for whatever reason fans of President Obama's health care plan don’t tag their tweets that way.

#Thanksgiving made the cut this morning, too: many, many shared recipes and centerpieces and grim tips for surviving. The soft-news crowd, onetime recipe-clippers and readers of Heloise, have taken up residence on Twitter and proudly use it as a knitting circle to trade domestic tricks.

Last, #iPad was a trending topic. Was there Apple news? No. The #iPad tag now accompanies posts of tablet-game accomplishments (“I got a high score in Bunky Blahblue! #iPad”). So #iPad is not news. It’s advertising.

That’s an especially banal workday Twitter opening. Yesterday on my feed, at least, an account purporting to be that of Philip Roth, the novelist, opened, albeit with a timid and self-evident salvo: “On Twitter. First time.”

@PhilipRothTweets was following publishing types, and Salmon Rushdie, so it was plausibly Roth’s or a Roth surrogate’s, but so many fake Philip Roths have showed up on Twitter that Roth watchers were ignoring, and sometimes ostentatiously blocking, this latest wolf-crying. Still, the combination of the old lion’s name and the silly word “tweets” produced some amusement and jokes were made.

What is the use of all this? No wonder that, in seven years, Twitter has never been profitable. To those who like it, Twitter has always been both maximally pleasurable, almost rapturous, and—simultaneously and maybe necessarily—entirely without noble purpose or even value. It’s not for news or entertainment or communication. It is, rather, a brilliant game of distraction—a sport played with language.

But after 10 a.m. this morning, #TWTR was off like a shot, trading for more than $45 per share. Fluctuations, hype, nervous energy, high-excitement and low-substance. Twitter and Wall Street are a perfect match.
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