Since this question has come up at least three times in the last week, I figured it might save time down the road to jot down my take on Twitter, just so its in one place and I don’t have to try to dig up what I’d previously written about it.
Let me start off by saying that I was a relative late-comer to Twitter. It had been popular for quite some time before I signed up, because I, like many of you, thought “I’m already on Livejournal, MySpace, Facebook and <insert other social networking site here>. What’s the point?” Why would I need yet *another* social network to keep track of, update, care about, post to, etc?
At the time I signed up, it seemed to me that Twitter was basically just the “status” part of the other social networks. Tweets were simply status updates – but since status updates are one of the few aspects to the major social networks that I actually enjoy reading and posting, it seemed worth a try. I used to try to update my Facebook status a few times a day – and thanks to the Facebook toolbar for Firefox, this was incredibly easy to do – I didn’t even need to load the Facebook website.
Twitter as a Social Tool
I got into a discussion on Lifehacker recently about using Twitter as a social tool. I explained that I think Twitter allows you to have *more* intimate contact with friends throughout the course of the day than most other social networks. How often do most of us email our friends? (And no, forwarding interesting news, stories, etc doesn’t count.) I know that for all the people I care about, I don’t get to spend nearly as much time talking or interacting with them as I’d like. But a good email that actually covers anything of importance is going to take me at least 45 minutes – because I talk too much. There just isn’t enough time in the day to stay in close touch with everyone I’d like.
Social networks are a good start, but still not perfect. I check into my Facebook account maybe twice a day (if that), and my MySpace maybe once a month – but I use Twitter all day long. I have a browser addon (TwitterFox) that lets me post new “tweets” from my desktop, so I don’t have even have to load a web page to update my status. Plus its got text message (via cell phone) support, so you can update your status from anywhere (at concerts, events, whatever). I was tweeting from the @jonathancoulton concert a few weeks ago and it made feel even more gloriously nerdy than I already did, surrounded by people who – without missing a single beat – broke into the Star Wars Imperial March when asked.)
It can be argued that Facebook at least offers cell phone status update support as well, however thanks to the Twitter Facebook application, I can send a text message to update my Twitter status and my Facebook status gets updated automagically. So my friends who don’t Twitter (but do use Facebook) are still able to see what’s going on.
The beauty of Twitter is that you’re limited to 140 characters, which means there isn’t that struggle to find the time to post or reply to friends (as you might in a blog situation.) If a friend posts something funny or interesting, you don’t have to figure out from where you’re going to steal the 30 minutes it will take for you to write a long e-mail or blog entry about why you think the way you do about whatever they posted about. You don’t have to apologize for not writing more – your reply is *expected* to be brief and clever.
As a result of this dynamic, I find that I interact with my friends far more than I ever did in any other social network. And I do mean “interact”, not just “read”, “follow”, or “keep tabs on.” I find something much more intimate about getting a glimpse into a friend’s daily life, and being able to participate with their lives, no matter how far apart you may geographically be. (For me, I’m 3,000 miles away from many of my friends.) That’s not to say that I didn’t make time for friends before Twitter – just that our interaction was much more planned, scheduled and deliberate.
Interacting on Twitter reminds me more of being in the same office with your friends, where most of the day, you’re doing your own thing, but occasionally someone strikes up a short conversation about their lives. You engage, you go back to work, knowing a little bit more about each other than you did before, because that little 15-second nugget would never have made it into a 45 minute blog post.
And just like being in that big office with your friends, sometimes you’ll overhear a conversation (in this case a volley of tweets back and forth between two or more friends.) Some of the funniest things I’ve seen on Twitter were conversations between friends that I wasn’t even a part of. And I think many Twitterer’s expect that, so they use that 140 characters to craft the most amusing or poignant messages possible. Its an feature that’s part eavesdropping and part water cooler, but it can prove to be both enlightening and entertaining.
And for people who actually do blog elsewhere, a free service called LoudTwitter will allow you to post a daily digest of your tweets to your blog, so even your non-Twittering friends who aren’t on Facebook can get a recap in one post.
Twitter as a Life Tool
Another added bonus of Twitter is that its not just for chit-chat. There are some very useful Twitter-based bots and concepts out there that actually help people get things done, lose weight, save money, and more. Courtesy partially of Lifehacker, here are a few:
- @FuelFrog – http://fuelfrog.com/ – track gas mileage
- @multimap – twitter bot that helps you to access maps, directions and local information
- @commuter – lets you post reports on traffic and transit delays in your local area using Twitter. You can also subscribe to your local reports via RSS, so you’ll know what the traffic conditions are like and which routes to avoid.
- @timer – Timer is a twitter bot that lets you set alarms for things you need to remember.
- @junglebot – search for books, DVDs and music on Amazon.com
- @MarsPhoenix – news on the Mars Phoenix project
Twitter for Fun
And there are more entertaining aspects too. One Twitterer I follow is DarthVader. His posts make me laugh out loud (since I’m a giant geek). From yesterday, he wrote: “Guys night in. Had Fett send out for Bantha Burgers while we watch pod races on pay-per-view. Blowing up a small moon later.”
And or those of you into this sort of thing, the BSG characters actively twittering (in character – its quite amusing): @leoben @cylonhybrid @gaiusbaltar @billadama @thefinalone @capricasix @toryfoster @karathrace
And just to continue the geek-theme, I also follow Wil Wheaton (@wilw) and Felicia Day (feliciaday) because they are nerdy and delightful.
Yes, Twitter is down a lot – but that gets much less frustrating when you’re using a desktop client (or Twitterfox) than if you’re trying to update via the web. The reality is that Twitter is a phenomenon, and I don’t think its going to go away anytime soon, specially since some impressive people have decided its worth their investment. If it does go away, something will be there to pick up where it left off.