Commentary

The Revolution Will Be Twitterized -- And What 'Mobisode' Should Really Mean

So, as of this morning (Monday) I was going to write this column about the death-by-Twitter of Sarah Lacy's interview with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend at SXSW Interactive. But before I can really get into that imbroglio -- I'll get there later in this column -- I'll do a quick drive-by on the Twitterization of Eliot Spitzer.

As I write this, it's been about two hours since the self-righteous governor of New York was outed for involvement in a prostitution ring, and Twitter Nation has been very busy ever since. A scandal like the Governor's is perfect for Twitter. If you're not familiar with it -- and goddammit, you should be -- it's the kind of service that is all about quick bursts of thought, since it's microblogging, which is, um, quick bursts of content. And everyone today, or it seemed like everyone who was Twittering anyway -- had something to say about Eliot Spitzer. Without further ado, here's a Spitzer sampler from Tweetscan, the service that lets you search "tweets," as in these little micro-posts:

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From someone called Stranahan: "BREAKING: Spitzer proposes giving illegal immigrants $5500 / hour hookers...Hillary is opposed to it and in favor of it."

paulsmith: "Silda Spitzer is a beautiful and accomplished woman. How you gonna burn her like that?"

mjkeliher: "Finally, someone on MSNBC mentions that Spitzer is a superdelegate. Get Hillary in front of a mic, ASAP! :)"

Now, I've no idea what any of these brief comments about Eliot Spitzer mean in the larger context. I'm just saying that this is what happens on Twitter in the wake of big news. The beauty of Twitter -- if you're into piles of ephemeral thoughts -- is that no longer do you need a blogger or a blog to get the conversation rolling; just sign up for Twitter and mouth off to your heart's content. You get 140 characters per tweet!

If I sound a bit dismissive of Twitter, I suppose that's somewhat on the mark. On the other hand, once the official press had dispensed with the official Spitzer story this afternoon, it was far more entertaining to read a bunch of Spitzer tweets than news updates about how, in the end, Spitzer's much-awaited statement didn't say much at all. We knew that would be the case before he opened his mouth now, didn't we?

Now here's my brilliant segue into talking about Sarah Lacy, provided by ceonyc on Twitter, who tweeted on Monday: "I think this whole Spitzer thing was setup by sarah lacy to distract people from yesterdays [sic] keynote."

 

I'm no more sure of what the Sarah Lacy/Twitter debacle means than I am about the Eliot Spitzer tweets, but let me take a crack at it. To recap, Sarah Lacy writes the ValleyGirl column for BusinessWeek, and was asked by the organizers of SXSW Interactive (an offshoot of the music festival in Austin), to interview Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday as part of the conference. As you can see from video snippets of the interview -- now, of course, widely available online (http://youtube.com/watch?v=LxZ6-O5R1zs&feature=related) -- her style is, rather, um, conversational, or as one Twitterer described it: "flirtatiously awful." My personal complaint is that somehow the interview ended up being as much about her, her book, her previous encounters with Zuckerberg, as it does being about him or Facebook.

The crowd agreed, but here's where the Zuckerberg/Lacy interview differs from the usual lousy conference Q&A. Those in attendance began to criticize her, in real-time, on Twitter, blogs and in the real world, bringing a brand new meaning to the term "mobisode," which used to mean a small, portable episode of a TV show.

Now, I'd argue that an experience like Lacy's fits the term better (although here the first syllable in "mobisode" should be pronounced as in the word "mob," not "mobile.") At one point, when Zuckerberg offered that maybe Lacy should ask questions, the crowd cheered for 30 seconds that seemed like five minutes, and somehow, between the Twitter postings, the news stories, the posting of the interview on YouTube, and so on, Sarah Lacy found herself in the middle of a Web 2.0 perfect storm -- which has continued to feed on social media's power. Now that's a mobisode! Though what I've seen of the interview certainly shouts "debacle," in another era it would've been quickly recounted and dismissed. Sarah Lacy may have committed many an interviewing faux pas on Sunday, but is this to be the punishment we can expect in the future for a particularly bad day at the office?

Even as I write that, I wonder if I'm making too much of Lacy's apparent (and somewhat self-inflicted) misfortune. As Lacy herself pointed out in an interview with Austin360.com posted on YouTube (of course!), her "Amazon rank is higher than ever" for a book, "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0," that isn't even out yet. Before this incident, I'd certainly never heard of her.

Maybe next time I'm asked to moderate a panel, I'll try to really screw it up.

 

CORRECTION: Tuesday's Online Video Insider at first had the wrong byline. The correct author (now credited online) is Paul Bowlin, a regional vice president for online video advertising marketplace SpotXchange, and a member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Digital Video Committee.

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