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Did Cartoonist Robert Crumb Predict Twitter? An Excerpt from Twitter API: Up and Running by Kevin Makice

By Sara Peyton
April 3, 2009 | Comments: 4

Twitter API: Up and Running

Here is a brief excerpt from Twitter API: Up and Running by Kevin Makice (adapted for the web). This groundbreaking new book provides the skills and resources necessary to build web applications for Twitter.

A Brief History of Microblogging

Twitter would not have had the opportunity to befuddle, annoy, and ultimately sway people into daily use without certain technological precursors. Microblogging has its roots in three main technological developments: Instant Relay Chat (IRC), IM chat status messages, and mobile phones.

After a couple decades of computer scientists toying with the idea of distributed chat (see Figure 1-3[14]), IRC came into existence in 1988. Invented by Jarkko Oikarinen, it was the forerunner to instant messaging tools such as Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk. The IRC community developed a rich language of protocols using special characters to provide instructions from writers to readers.

Two examples of such protocols are the namespace channel (#namespace) and the directed message (@username). Both conventions have propagated into current microblogging norms and are sometimes even hardcoded into the services. Twitter is mulling over the possibility of officially recognizing the retweet, which is when a twitterer reposts a status update first written by someone else. Members establish new standards by doing things that other people do.

The child of IRC, instant messaging, taught a generation of young Internet users how to chat online with friends in real time. Its popularity grew as it evolved from mere in-the-moment communication into a subculture of creativity expressed via "away" status messages.

twitter cartoon.png
Figure 1-3. Cartoonist Robert Crumb predicted Twitter in the 1960s

In most IM clients, a user can select a custom away message to be displayed when the connection idles or when the user explicitly selects a dormant state. Over time, these messages became more and more creative, moving from a standard "Not at my desk" to more specific explanations of absence, such as "Weeping softly in stairwell A. Back in 10." This form of cultural communication also crept into social networking sites, most notably Facebook. It became accepted behavior to express oneself in this manner, as did keeping informed about one's friends by reading their status messages.

The final piece of the puzzle was the mobile phone revolution. This was far more pronounced outside of the U.S., due to late adoption of the technology and a less developed reliance on landline phones. Texting--i.e., sending text messages via the Short Message Service (SMS)--got its start in 1992, when Sema Group's Neil Papworth sent the first message, from his PC to a friend's handset: "MERRY CHRISTMAS." It was 1999, however, before SMS was able to allow communication between providers, which sparked its widespread use. Texting became a legitimate use for a mobile phone and soon became as popular a means of communication as simply talking into the mouthpiece. The maximum length of an 8-bit data message is a familiar 140 characters, which gave rise to the signature constraint of Twitter.

Twitter's launch showed strong evidence of all three of these cultures--IRC, IM, and SMS--converging at an opportune moment. By that point, people had gotten used to composing short messages on demand. They sought out such messages to understand how the people they cared about were doing. Mobility meant that our spontaneous urges to communicate could be satisfied, and texting allowed us to do so whether or not everyone in our circle had a computer. That was the world into which Jack Dorsey hatched his idea.

[14] This image is reprinted with permission from the artist, cartoonist Robert Crumb, who first published this illustration in an issue of Zap Comix. A copy of this image can be found on the Web at http://herot.typepad.com/cherot/2007/10/in-the-60s-r-cr.html (source: Christopher Herot).

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of Twitter API: Up and Running.

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Great post thanks. Yes I think Twitter and micro blogging, social networking and all these things are definitely here to stay.

Its scary really when you think where it will all be in 20 years time.

The Twitter fad is dying already. Who cares that you've just added jam to your buttered toast?

It is an in between technology that shows the power of short messages between a sender and recipients where there is a large, unwritten and shared context.

The cell phone carriers presently have the end point hardware (cell phones) all tied up in proprietary islands of function.

Making IRC or twitter do specific kinds of work (like getting you a ride, or ordering a cup of coffee, or sending the class attendance report to the principal's office requires more of a framework.

Compare to the way a spreadsheet provided a framework that vaulted computers from glass teletypes to accounting machines.

The cartoon by Mr. Crumb is sample of Mr. Crumb's fine satire and humor of the time. Another thinker of the time who came closer to actual invention of communication systems might be Marshall McLuhan, ie:

"The medium is the massage" --> "The cell phone display screen is a unit of twittering."

......hey someone i am lookign for a cartoon by robert crumb,this cartoon is one of his this guy is standing up walking with those big feet he has on jeans and suspender with a button up shirt and has the captive below it saying(just passing through ) can anyone help me with this cartoon i am looking for ...........thanks if u can dan Terry


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