@hamilton RT @publius hay guyz i think ppl voting in democracy 4 d uniting states FTW whatchoo think LMK

I got into a small debate/discussion about direct versus representative democracy. Via Twitter. While drinking. Not really the place for significant exposition. I thought of the founders of the US discussing the Federalist Papers. And I thought, “what if?” Not “what if the founders were drunk?” but “what if they were limited to tweets?”

I went to Project Gutenberg and grabbed a plain text file of the Federalist Papers. I stripped off the Gutenberg header and footer so that I was left with the main text, and the headings that were part of the original text.

I wrote a quick script to split the text on periods, question marks, and exclamation points. I filtered out sentences under 15 characters (since there are titles and non-sentence cases). Seems like a comfortable threshold for “smallest possible sentence” — at least 15 characters between “end of sentence marks”, excluding newline characters.

There are 6190 sentences in the text. Of those, 2528 are less than or equal to 140 characters in length (but larger than 15). There are 3662 sentences greater than 140 characters in length. 59% of the sentences wouldn’t fit in a single tweet.

The longest sentence in the Federalist Papers is

The recommendatory act of Congress is in the words following:“WHEREAS, There is provision in the articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, for making alterations therein, by the assent of a Congress of the United States, and of the legislatures of the several States; and whereas experience hath evinced, that there are defects in the present Confederation; as a mean to remedy which, several of the States, and PARTICULARLY THE STATE OF NEW YORK, by express instructions to their delegates in Congress, have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution; and such convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these States A FIRM NATIONAL GOVERNMENT:“Resolved, That in the opinion of Congress it is expedient, that on the second Monday of May next a convention of delegates, who shall have been appointed by the several States, be held at Philadelphia, for the sole and express purpose OF REVISING THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such ALTERATIONS AND PROVISIONS THEREIN, as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the States, render the federal Constitution ADEQUATE TO THE EXIGENCIES OF GOVERNMENT AND THE PRESERVATION OF THE UNION

I’m not sure where to go with this. I could filter down easy abbreviations like “for” => “4”, “people” => “ppl”, etc, but there’s a limit on the information content of a single tweet. Possibly we’ve invented new words in the past 200 years that would allow for a higher idea/characters ratio, but there’s even a limit on the complexity of sentence structures that can be conveyed in short messages. Franklin and Douglas would debate for hours on end using enormous grammatical structures that most people can now barely read. Does this make us dumber?

I’ve got no evidence to back this up, but it does seem easier to communicate things orally instead of in writing. I think the parts of the brain that process language have been around longer than the parts that process writing, so our brains might be better equipped for insanely long spoken sentences instead of written sentences.

Fun for brainstormin.

Twitter Autocomplete (Tw-autocomplete Firefox Extension)

After lots of code, tests, and fun, I’ve produced a Firefox extension to add a useful, new feature to Twitter, as opposed to writing Twitter extensions as a joke 😀

Simply put, the extension provides autocomplete for Twitter usernames from your own list of friends while you’re using the web interface at twitter.com. It’s totally secure — no separate login required. Just install it, and use Twitter naturally.

When you start typing messages to people — using “@user” or “d user” — a list of matching contacts (along with icons) will drop in. You can click the person’s name to fill their username into the text box, or use the arrow keys along with tab/enter to select. As an added bonus, if you can’t remember their username at all, just type their first name, and the extension will figure it out.

There is another autocomplete script for Twitter, but it requires installing extra libraries, and I think this is simpler. Clearly it’s a feature in-demand.

The extension is hosted at addons.mozilla.org, a highly reputable site. They also provide lots of great management features that are handy to developers. I hope you enjoy using Tw-autocomplete.

The next Twitter.

I don’t know Twitter’s mission statement, but to me it seems like it should involve enabling stream-of-consciousness communication. When I look at heavy Twitter users (especially those with iPhones), it is close to stream-of-consciousness — it seems like they’re sending every other thought to Twitter. But it’s not stream-of-consciousness for most people, there’s too much overhead in posting to Twitter.

It seems to me that if Twitter had some spare cash, it would be wise to look into developing some more advanced technology. The iPhone is very close to wearable computing, but I’m sure there’s some clever ideas in the wearable computing area that could be adopted and branded by Twitter. There’s a great opportunity for them to pull a trick like Apple did with the iPhone, and bring this technology to mass-market in a nice slick package. It’s a natural extension of their current business, and it’s a technology that’s coming — a nice time to catch the wave.