Follow Me as I Follow You
About all members of this mom blog are using Twitter now and in the last few weeks there has been a change in how we all use this service. Some of us just posted a handful of ‘tweets’ while others post every hour. Between us we have connections and we use the ‘@username’ feature to address each other directly while other can read this and also post a lot of spontanious thoughts and goofs. Things that matter to us as a group we mark with the ‘hashtag’ #MofM and at picnic we used #picnic08. After using Twitter for some weeks I wonder what are the implications on social life in a group of students and/or friends? We had some interactions late at night and useful discussions, we did invite people to a gathering or just complained about Twitter.
What is Twitter?
There’s no easy or clear answer to the question ‘what is Twitter?’ as the service appears to be very simple. Users can create a profile within two minutes and start shouting something (tweet) with a maximum of 140 characters (with spaces), like in an sms. You can ‘follow’ friends or other users and they could follow you. But the features this website offers and the uses of the RSS feeds have many possibilities and implications. I don’t mean just in the way people interact socially but in this new way of communicating and keeping in touch with each other and the world. This website is not just a tool for microblogging as this is basically the term for leaving short messages instead of long pieces of text. There are just too many external websites now who offer to tweet at their website or offer software to tweet more easily. Then you can tweet through your mobile telephone. There may be some disadvantages as 140 characters is pretty short but in this line you can paste an url to a longer story, a picture of a video on YouTube. Twitter will automatically shorten your url by using Tinyurl. You can also view the tweets separately too.
Twitter reminds me of notes on a fridge door but then publicly displayed (although you can have a private account) for all to see. This following, is it glancing at other peoples fridge or kitchen table? Is it some kind of bulletin board in a public place like a supermarket or market square? But it’s hard to imagine this phenomenon in old media and space. I like the metaphor one of the guys I follow mentioned the other week when he imagined heads popping out of nowhere shouting tweets, or I was reminded of hearing the voices in the corridor from the song ‘Hotel California’. What would happen if my Apple could read tweets out loud or a user reads the tweets to the computer and it will post everything onto the web.
Though Twitter is not an old service the practice of microblogging is way older than Internet itself. I already mentioned briefly the notes or yellow post-it on the fridge or kitchen table left by a friend, lover, roommate or relative. Before this people were sending messages through Morse code or on a piece of paper written in ink. But these all miss the advantages of features and interactivity. This is what makes Twitter different. So to find an answer on the question what Twitter is and what metaphors are best to use the best is to check some of these features.
One of the great powers behind Twitter are the different features the websites provide and features other websites provide. The most simple feature is the RSS feed so I don’t have to check Twitter but can read the feed or paste an RSS feed into a blog. The tweets are then being displayed on more than one place as my tweets are being transferred to my blog and Facebook and Swurl, but maybe there are more places where an RSS feed is implemented that I’m not even aware of.
Earlier I mentioned the hashtag #MofM our group uses on Twitter so we can keep up with each other, there are however endless possibilities like the popular #haiku. Then there’s this new feature, election08 that continues 24/7 showing thoughts on the elections that are drawing near. If this could be displayed on a big screen it would almost be an art project but now it’s a social experiment showing what is going on in the minds of people involved in the elections, but what does it mean? Is this particular feed a news bulletin or an unorganized newspaper? Using the @username is great so I can send a message to a user but other people can read it, and as I wrote before I cannot delete messages other users write about me
Besides the external feature Tinyurl that has been implemented there are a few I’d like to mention here and more can be found through Epicfu. On twitterlocal.net you can find users near you, on Swurl you can have an overview of your friends activities and on Twubble you can see who your friends are connected to without to check them all manually.
Posting onto Twitter
There are a number of ways to post to Twitter, the most common is through the website and then you’ll see ‘from web’ behind the username, then there’s ‘from text’ if the user send the Tweet through sms, and there are external websites or programs who offer a service to Tweet from their site and then being transferred to Twitter, examples are twitterrific and twittelator. There are more but these are frequently used by some of the people I follow. There are so many widgets now for Twitter where you can implement this service into your own weblog or profile on a social network site that it must mean something. Twitter is not just a service where users can leave a short message but much more and some say it’s a lifestyle but for sure it caught us and we’re being sucked into this vortex that’s Twitter.