Can Twitter still be special after floating on Wall Street?

My take on the Twitter IPO — in the Observer‘s Tech Monthly.

Despite Facebook’s size and reach, and its much-vaunted role in the short-lived Arab spring, there are reasons for thinking that Twitter may be the more important service for the future of the public sphere – that is, the space in which democracies conduct public discussion. The fact that Twitter has fewer users and that they might not be demographically representative might, paradoxically, make them more influential in shaping opinion for the simple reason that they are more likely than the average Joe to express or articulate political views.

And there is some evidence to suggest that tweeted sentiment on some ideological issues actually tracks more rigorous methods of opinion polling.

In a less abstruse way, Twitter has already shown itself to be a useful conduit for circumventing legal or governmental censorship. In the UK, for example, it provided the means for circumventing the intricate web of legal injunctions and super-injunctions which had kept the Trafigura case out of the public domain.

When WikiLeaks was deprived of DNS services during the “Cablegate” controversy – which had the effect of making the site unfindable for a time – Twitter provided the channel by which information on the current URL was disseminated until normal service was restored.

To date, the owners of Twitter have been alert to the sensitive role that their system plays in our information ecosystem. They seem to have been slightly better, for example, than some other online providers at pushing back on government demands for personal information about their users.