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Orphan Tweets – A New Literary Form

Slate‘s John Swansburg and Jeremy Singer-Vine just published a great piece entitled Orphaned Tweets: When people sign up for Twitter, post once, then never return.  The central premise of the article is that a lot of folks sign up for Twitter, post once, and then never again.  They call such tweets ‘orphan tweets.’  As John and Jeremy noted” 

“After examining some 300,000 Twitter accounts, a Harvard Business School professor reported last week that 10 percent of the service’s users account for more than 90 percent of tweets. The study dovetails with recent analysis by the media research firm Nielsen asserting that 60 percent of Twitter users do not return from one month to the next. Both findings suggest that, thus far, Twitter has been considerably better at signing up users than keeping them. 

Which got us to thinking-there must be a legion of Twitterers out there who sign up, tweet once, and never return. In the spirit of the great blog One Post Wonder, “a collection of blogs that have one post,” we set out to find these orphaned tweets. Different people obviously have different tweet metabolisms, but we decided that any account that’s been dormant for at least six months is fair game. We found several thousand of them. 

They go on to present a number of orphan tweets.  Some are not too surprising like “sk8ie: I’m here!”.  Others are a bit disturbing like “Phillyrules: it hurts to breathe. should I go to the hospital?”  The authors go on to note: “Not all orphan tweets inspire such macabre thoughts. At their best they resemble found art, an index of first lines of poems that have yet to be written:

mundial marching backwards toward the source of the four winds
9:45 AM Jul 17th, 2007

stonelove27 I am standing behind my nose…
11:59 AM Sep 5th, 2007

ladydrea Marcus Aurelius! You are loved! (I’m typing now…)
10:53 AM Jun 7th, 2008

newdayrising sold your soul to Jesus for a carton of yoghurt. He doesn’t even like yoghurt that much.
12:48 PM Mar 31st, 2008

boustanyn Getting ready for the third phase of life on this earth….
12:51 PM Nov 17th, 2008

bkennedy weeping gently
2:47 PM Mar 30th, 2007

In at least one instance, two orphan tweets appear to have been in conversation. 

marcbresseel getting ready for cannes – printing latest briefing – I hate folding my shirts 8:36 AM Jun 14th, 2008 

Kolcott @Marcbresseel You fold your shirts? 9:13 AM Jul 10th, 2008

 A lone call followed by a lone response; a social network of two.”

It’s kind of amazing that Twitter has developed into such a phenomenon that a literary form could be created from people’s one and only tweets.  To ensure the ever growing repertoire of orphaned tweets the authors have coined a hashtag #orphantweet to let Twitters find and cherish other orphan tweets.

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