Twitter is exploding in the way that the Web did at the start of the late-90s bubble. Remember when every TV commercial had to include “www”? Twitter is becoming ubiquitous in popular culture and, by some accounts, may not survive the coming wave of new users.
So what is it? Twitter is a form of microblogging (there is a 140 character limit) which is akin to updating your Facebook status. Many people use it to update friends on what they’re eating for lunch and other vapid topics. But there are more constructive ways to use it.
One way to describe the various kinds of tweets (Twitter messages) is David Silver’s thick or thin analogy. The more layers of information a tweet contains, the thicker it is. Thick tweets can convey a remarkable amount of information in 140 characters.
For example, tags can be used to create channels of discussion. Search Twitter for #calico09 and you’ll see all of the tweets related to the 2009 CALICO Conference that include that tag. In this way, another layer of discussion can be added to the typical attend-a-session / discuss-it-in-the-hallway routine. In fact, I had the experience of discussing a question raised in a conference session during the session via Twitter. The same question was asked 20 minutes later, after the presenter had finished.
There is also power in the network. A friend who is a webmaster often posts messages about trouble he’s having with various projects. Because he has about 100 mostly like-minded followers (you can choose to follow others’ feeds and others can choose to follow yours), he often receives a useful response from this community. These feeds can also be added to blogs and other webpages, as I’ve noted before.
By retweeting messages (rebroadcasting a tweet you have read, typically inserting RT at the beginning,) information can spread very quickly. For example, after tweeting about my presentation on Interactive Whiteboards at CALICO, it was picked up by someone following the topic who retweeted it so that it could be read by the hundreds of people following his feed (but not mine). So, my message (a thick one, with links to resources,) which was only read by my two dozen followers, became available to hundreds more.
If nothing else, Twitter’s 140 character limit is an excellent exercise in self-editing. If you’ve read this far (all 434 WORDS!), you know I can use the practice. So, as the popular media continue to become enthralled with Twitter, consider some of the ways it can actually enhance communication. Or, just tell the world what you had for lunch.