John Rentoul: Don't knock Twitter for being random

Louise Mensch has launched a site on which people can only discuss three subjects


Two of my favourite people on Twitter are setting up an internet network for people "who find Twitter frustrating". Louise Mensch, who has used Twitter to promote her political mission better than any MP with the exception of Stella Creasy, the Labour MP who campaigns against "legal loan sharking", has launched Menshn with Luke Bozier, a Labour friend of mine who defected to the Tories at the start of the year.

Menshn is a US-only website for the moment, on which people can discuss only three subjects: the Obama campaign, the Romney campaign or the presidential election generally. (More subjects will be added later.) The point of it seems to be that comments will be "on topic", because the trouble with Twitter, apparently, is that it is "too random".

Too random? That is what I love about it. I don't find Twitter frustrating in the slightest. On the contrary, it has been the greatest computer-based boon to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness since Google and internet grocery shopping. If I want to discuss Mitt Romney's wife's love of dressage, and whether this is an asset to the Obama campaign, I may do so. And if someone else on Twitter wants to change the subject and make silly jokes about Ed Miliband ("Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Ed." "Ed who?" "Ed Miliband." "Ed Miliband who?"), then that is fine by me, too.

Twitter has changed journalism, spreading news and expert comment at least 10 times faster than the old technology. When I started as a reporter in the House of Commons, the news came from the Press Association, a subscription news service. Then you had to find an expert on the end of a land line to comment on it. Now, if you want news, it will break on Twitter first. If you want a fact, Google will find it. If you want to know what it means, someone on Twitter will know. So, put me down as a sceptic. I'll sign on, of course, when they launch the UK version of Menshn for the Olympics. Although I have just one question. What happened to the "c"? Shouldn't it be Menschn?

No – I do not find Twitter frustrating. The only thing that is frustrating about it is the company's constant efforts to make something so brilliantly simple more complicated. I feel no need for a new internet thingy that would be more "on topic". In fact, the phrase "on topic" is going straight onto my Banned List, a self-sustaining internet theme that receives several new nominations a day on Twitter.

Mind you, if you had explained what Twitter was five years ago, I would have said, "Don't be daft; 140-character messages? Leave me alone; I've got an urgent blog post to write."


John Rentoul is Chief Political Commentator for 'The Independent on Sunday' and was named Political Tweeter of the Year by Public Affairs News

Twitter: @JohnRentoul

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