January 30th, 2009
One of the more noteworthy developments in the online politics world over the past six months has been the enthusiastic embrace of the micro-blogging tool Twitter by conservative activists, particularly after the “Dontgo” movement this past summer. In that case, several Republican congressmembers camped out on the House floor during the August recess to protest the lack of a vote on expanded oil-and-gas drilling, and supporters vigorously chronicled their activities through short messages to the Twitter-using audience. Since then, conservatives have created Twitter accounts in droves (the e.politics Twitter feed has seen periodic bursts of Republican activists join), and Twitter has apparently come up repeatedly in the race for RNC chair.
Unlike Facebook, which naturally creates social spaces as people post content, Twitter is generally more of a scattered medium — you typically only see information from people whose feeds you’re following. Key to the Republican Twitter strategy has been the use of “hash tags,” which are small text snippets included in a Twitter post, preceded by the “#” character, that mark the message as being related to a particular topic. Using the #TCOT hashtag (for “Top Conservatives On Twitter,” I believe) allows you to aggregate the tagged comments, either through a Twitter search or an outside website, turning a distributed conversation into something that can be followed from a central point.
Yesterday, friend-of-e.politics Alan Rosenblatt struck back, proposing that lefty Twitterers start using the #topprog hash tag in similar fashion. His idea immediately caught on, getting an enthusiastic reaction from the initial group of progressive Twitter users to whom he proposed it, and then from many others as the news spread. Alan’s developing a site over at the Center for American Progress to aggregate the #topprog posts, though of course anyone with the technical ability can create their own aggregator site as well. Let the left-right Twitter joust begin! I’m by nature more of a essayist than a Twitterer (only so much you can say in 140 characters!), but it’s a useful tool and plenty of people have taken to it with wild abandon. It’ll be fascinating to see how the conversation develops over the next few months — and since it will take place in public, there won’t exactly be any secrets about what happens.
For more coverage of #topprog, see this article in The Exception, which includes a quote from the Good Doktor Rosenblatt.