Tweetdeck – cyberspace dashboard thingie

Iain Dodsworth explaining Tweetdeck at the BBC yesterday.

The Tweetdeck crew, led by doughty leader Iain Dodsworth, came to BBC Audio & Music yesterday to grill us about our use of the app and to fill us in on their plans. Fascinating as you’d expect.

One interesting observation: Tweetdeck’s not for beginners, not for light or ‘ordinary’ users. It’s for ‘power users’ so that’s why it’s not very friendly. There’s a proper learning curve and the experience can be a bit forbidding if you’re new to it. Iain has the luxury of allowing Twitter to worry about the n00bs while he gets on with building a pro dashboard.

We had a cup of tea afterwards and I told Iain about the impact on me of Twitter when I came across it four years ago. I told him I was part of the generation that encountered ‘cyberspace’ in William Gibson’s Neuromancer in the mid-eighties and that I’d spent the next twenty-odd years waiting for something as impossibly vivid to come along. Each time a new bit of net tech arrived, I’d find myself hoping that it’d be cyberspace, that it would finally have arrived. And of course it didn’t.

Usenet: that wasn’t cyberspace. FTP? No. Gopher? No. The web? No. Along the way there were false dawns (do you remember GopherVR? Thought not): VRML was meant to be it (but it wasn’t). So were various alternate realities and MUDs and MMOGs and MOOs: I remember the rush I got from logging into Habitat (that’s way back) and then Second Life (much later). And then the disappointment: still not cyberspace. Not glowing and evanescent – too physical by far.

Virtual worlds had none of the vertigo-inducing collapsing of space and time I was expecting and none of that sense that you jack in and you’re present to millions. And they’re present to you. And I think that last thing was what I was really waiting for – the anticipated sense (odd image alert) of pressing your head through a stretchy membrane and arriving THERE, right in it and present to all the others who’ve just done the same thing – blinking and staring.

And do you remember that fantastically potent image of Gibson’s? The floating cities of light that illuminated his cyberspace – Chiba City and The Sprawl and the data havens, waking up and coming to life and humming with the presence of the millions jacked in? That, for me, is Twitter. That’s what I encountered at the beginning of 2007 when I logged into Twitter. The sense that Twitter made me present to others – and made them present to me. And the sense that all those other Twitter users were present to me but not in an intrusive way. Not here with me but just doing their thing over there on the virtual horizon, just waiting for me to pay attention and make a contribution, but not demanding it, not requiring it.

And about ten days ago, when Cairo lit up on the social nets, that image came back to me and then, a few days later, when it went dark, more so. Twitter – which, after all, is composed entirely of thought – is the closest we’ve yet got to Gibson’s fabulous cyberspace.

And – circling back to Tweetdeck and Iain’s proud admission that his app isn’t for the masses but for the social media ninjas and that its rather forbidding, out-of-black, nuclear-submarine-control-room look is like that on purpose – I realise that Tweetdeck, with its whizzing columns and blinking alerts – is probably the dashboard cyberspace needed.


  1. Hi Steve,
    William Gibson’s Neuromancer made a huge impression on me. I’ve heard it called “overwrought” in style… but it conjured powerful images and ideas in my teenage brain and changed my life. I was reminded of your blog post and ideas of cyberspace when I read a recent interview with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

    These lines are very Gibson:

    “For Dorsey, it’s all one big integrated system. Transactions are like traffic. Traffic flows over the beautiful bridge. The bridge is a point on the map. The map is an expression of the scheme, the stream, the grand flow of interactions. And he’s been thinking about this stuff since he was eight.”

    Thanks for an interesting post.

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