Liquid Culture

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There is a classical science experiment in which a drop of food coloring is placed into two different glasses of water. In one glass, the water is hot, and in the other glass, the water is cold. When the food coloring is dropped into the glass containing the hot water, the color spreads more quickly. In the same way, a message sent through a ‘hot media’ can spread more quickly than one sent through a ‘cold media’. We can define different forms of communication mediums as hot or cold by assessing how quickly information is transmitted through them.

The ‘hotter’ a medium is, the more quickly the medium information in ‘hot mediums’ can easily go out of style once they’ve reached the edges of the network. For instance, once a story has been ‘Dugg’, or voted for on the social networking site Digg, it quickly loses value, as a stories often have a ‘one-time’ value. Media saturation gives rise to a quickly moving information space that news moves through quickly, and almost immediately plateaus and loses value.

Conversely, “discovery” sites such as Stumbleupon accrue information over time, and sites which are ‘Stumbled’ have longer lasting view rates, with returning viewers.

In the case of standard mail, information takes weeks to transfer. E-mail is faster, but there is a very high volume to response ratio. The email, which is opaque and cannot be seen through, vs. the mailing list, which can. New mediums like Twitter, SMS, Digg, and Facebook allow for the rapid transmission of data.

We can estimate the relative speed of social networks based on profile to response ratio. Twitter has a high profile to response ratio. Each environment and person's profile is compressed for light transit. Myspace has more social geography. Each user has more visual and textual space. Each space is capable of being altered in size, shape, color, and there are embeddable objects.

In slow networks, information absorption and data transparency suffer. A network has to provide something useful to its community, or it will not be joined. Online forums are still some of the best places for re rapid transfer of data.

Similarly, spam accounts and excessive updates afflict Twitter users, which often cannot follow too many users unless they craft a personal filtration system, or adopt a 3rd party tool such as Tweetdeck, Twirl, Yahoo! Pipes to filter, aggregate, and sort data into manageable groups. In the same way, a fishtank’s filtration system, or the filter-feeding fish that stick to the walls of the tank, help to erase the murky waters of the tank and balance the flora and fauna of the tank.

With Twitter, there are limits on how one can augment's another space. There is little tolerance for spamming, and much data transparency. The subscribe function limits what one can write on one's "wall".

This makes Twitter less iconic and faster. With profiles compressed for easy flow. The architecture of the system provides for an asyncronistic, particulate, frictionless flow of text that is a hybrid between Instant Message, SMS, and very short E-mail. Faster, micro-updates signal increasingly granular space/time. Smaller distance between data nodes. Better approximation of what is really happening.

This microcommunication thus resembles something that we might see in real life, although the audience is much larger that one might see. Instead of to one person as in SMS or Instant Messaging, a message gains importance in proportion to the amount of recipients it makes it to. In the case of Twitter, many recipients can view a message at once.

Additional Reading