Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Twitter Ye Not*

A few years ago, MySpace was the in thing and I, like many of my friends, had profiles there. In more recent years Facebook has come to dominate the "Social Networking" scene. In the past year or so, Twitter has come along.

Twitter hasn't, however, been adopted in quite the same way. Indeed, I have many friends who just don't understand it. Statistics indicate that many people sign up but don't utilise it much beyond the first month. They also suggest that a small minority is responsible for the majority of twitter traffic. Obviously it's not for everyone but why do some many people seem not to get on with it?

I think the first mistake many people make is to classify it as a Social Networking site. While it can be used as that, it isn't at its core. It is, rather, a micro-blogging site. It is easy to describe - and dismiss - micro-blogging as being essentially a long list of Facebook style status comments. This shorthand sells it short though, many posts are witty, and crafted to make best use of the 140 characters available.

Another advantage over Facebook is that it's not necessarily reciprocal: I can follow friends and they can follow me but I can also follow, for example, Stephen Fry, who famously is a prolific tweeter with a huge following. He couldn't be expected to link to everyone who's linked to him, but we can see what he's posted nonetheless. Likewise you can message people without being linked to them!

The written word, particularly the compressed and instant form that the format imposes exposes a different side to people. I'm not, for example, the world's largest fan of Jonathan Ross or Jimmy Carr, but I enjoy their tweets. It has made me respect them more than I may have done previously.

I can use it as an RSS-style feed: the BBC, Sky News and Sky Sports News all post links to stories on their websites.

While it's not specifically about "networking", tweeting can be a collective experience too - recently I've been enjoying Big Brother with live tweets from Davina McCall as she watches the evening show too, for example.

Contrary to popular thought, it's not all "I've made a Sandwich" or "I'm going to bed" - although occasionally such messages do appear!

There are drawbacks - various spam engines have latched on and you can get followed by links to porn sites. Tweets can be ghostwritten by publicity and commercial teams rather than famous individuals - Dolly Parton's tweets are an example of this, which is particularly disappointing as I think she'd be a great Tweeter. The site itself doesn't have the best layout, but this can be sorted through using another service such as Tweetdeck.

So while it may not be for everyone, Twitter does have a lot to offer, which may not be immediately obvious!


(*Apologies to the late Frankie Howerd)

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