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If a Tweet Falls in the Forest

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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Two philosophical thought experiments that raise questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality.

Here is a modern version:

What is a tweet without a retweet?

Or better put...

Is Twitter really social without retweets?

Far from being a philosophical experiment or a Zen conundrum, I'd posit that this question is at the heart of the Twitter IPO and, frankly, I'd argue (as opposed to posit) that once again the digibabble of the analyst community and the lack of understanding by the reporting community will create great wealth for some, but do nothing to advance what is a truly powerful tool.

Let me begin by sharing the mission statement of Twitter:

"The mission we serve as Twitter Inc. is to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers."

Frankly -- as I have spent my life helping companies differentiate themselves from their competitors -- I am depressed that this was the best they could do.

The test of true differentiation is how the statement stands if you put another name to it -- say Apple... say Facebook... say LinkedIn... say any other kind of IM... say Moleskine notebooks... say Parker Pens....

Bottom line, it creates nothing. The originator does the creating (or curating, as the case may be), and that creation might be words, video, pictures, links, whatever -- Twitter does the sharing. But here is the rub: Without retweeting, why is it social? Why is it any more social than an old-fashioned analog broadcast? Why is it any more social than a text or email?

It isn't, and that is the issue -- a tweet out is nothing more than a broadcast. Ah, but a retweet... that is sweet, that is social, that has exponential power to influence and drive.

Now there is nothing wrong with broadcast, and Twitter is a whiz at mobile broadcast -- maybe the best around today, in fact -- but I don't believe that a "shared" broadcast is what social is meant to be, nor should its pricing be the same.

I'd love to see a pricing model that builds on retweets that gives them premium for what they really have the power to do, and by the way what they will need to be smarter about, because if it isn't really that interesting or important or compelling, it doesn't get shared.

So I was amused by an article in the New York Times that was comparing social networks and made the following statement:

Twitter, citing data calculated by Nielsen's SocialGuide service under a confidential formula, said about 600,000 people had posted more than 1.2 million messages, or tweets, about the "Breaking Bad" finale over about a 10-hour period surrounding the East and West Coast broadcasts. But that included retweets, which are messages that simply pass along what others have posted.

Read it again -- "...but that included retweets"? Folks, that is the whole point -- and some still just don't get it.

I am high on Twitter -- like I am on Facebook -- I am low on the digibabble that surrounds them and the hype that rewards them for the wrong things because that is what is driving investor wealth as opposed to user value.

So in conclusion... listen:

"Beware the sound of one hand clapping." - Anonymous

Or as C.S. Lewis said:

"The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones that are being argued, but the ones that are assumed."

And we allow ourselves to assume way too much these days....

What do you think?