At 2 p.m. Thursday, Twitter tweeted that it had filed the necessary papers in preparation for an initial public offering. The following morning, Paul Krugman — Nobel Prize winner, economist, New York Times columnist — declared, in a blog post, that he did not and would not tweet.
Paul Krugman is a very smart guy, and his main reason for declining to tweet — the specter of career suicide owing to an intemperate 140-character outburst — is perfectly reasonable. Krugman could have a lot to lose from the wrong tweet, and not much to gain. A prolific blogger, he is already guaranteed the widest possible distribution of his ideas and commentary across the known and unknown universe by readers who are themselves quick to tweet anything he writes that is of interest. He is right: He does have better things to do with his time. His ideas are all over Twitter, already.
But his description of Twitter as a place for “reflections on what I just ate, or something” doesn’t quite get at the truth of what Twitter actually is today — or why it might be worth an IPO that could end up valuing the company at upward of $15 billion.
Twitter may at one time have been dominated by narcissistic self-propaganda, but it has long since mutated into a much bigger deal. Twitter is a broadcast medium, a recommendation engine, and a worldwide conversation on every possible topic conducted in real time. It also boasts built-in redundancy: If you miss something, someone else will tweet it or retweet it soon enough.
Twitter is not a good medium to carry on detailed arguments about macroeconomic policy, but it is an extremely good place to find recommendations to new stories about macroeconomic policy or to promote your own take on macroeconomic policy.
You can, of course, choose only to follow people who post religiously on every meal they eat. Or you can choose only to follow people who post links to important news stories. Or you can follow just people who report about college football. Or you can mix and match. The point is, the medium is not merely for reflection. It is also a place for research, engagement and fun. (Oh yeah, and racism, homophobia and misogyny too. Twitter is truly all things to all people.) Twitter’s biggest drawback is not its trivial reduction of complexity into short bursts, but its distracting addictiveness.
The news that Twitter had filed for an IPO naturally sent Twitter into a conniption. A flood of snark, links to commentary, jokes and insta-analysis swarmed in the announcement’s wake. Advertising Age reported that some canny markets immediately started buying Promoted Tweets tied to the keywords “Twitter IPO” — proof enough that Twitter’s future business model is likely to be sound. When you can monetize the conversation about your own plans to raise money, you’re doing all right.
The point is, if Twitter was just a place where we reported the mundane minutiae of our lives, it would be difficult to justify the company’s long-anticipated decision to go public. When, in fact, this is one public offering that makes oodles of sense — whether or not Paul Krugman chooses to participate!