Jewish Journal

Is Twitter Just for Birdbrains?

by Sam Gliksman

July 8, 2009 | 4:40 pm

I have this practice of jotting down my article ideas in a file and then coming back to them later when I’m ready to write. Ideas come freely. On the other hand, planting my rear down on a seat long enough to write a full article is far more daunting. As a result, the list grows progressively longer and, given the pace of change in technology, earlier ideas become dated very quickly.

In reviewing my list of article concepts today I noticed one item a few months back about an up and coming micro-blogging site called Twitter. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Figuring that it’s better later than never I thought I’d write a review for the last two of you left on the planet that don’t use Twitter. The rest of you are invited along as well.

For most of its initial, formative years the internet was comprised of websites that had static content composed by programmers. As internet technology developed we reached a platform commonly referred to as “Web 2.0” which contains a host of tools that allow anyone, with any skill level, to post web content in a variety of new formats. One such tool is the “blog” - a shortened form of the term “web log”. What you’re reading now is a blog. It’s a web page maintained by an individual that contains entries with thoughts and opinions on any topic. It’s usually displayed in chronological order and adding entries is similar to typing a word processing document.

From Blogs to Micro-Blogs
Just as we became comfortable with blogging, along came a new concept called “micro-blogging”. If blog entries are discussions on a topic then micro-blog entries are brief snippets. Twitter - www.twitter.com - is a micro-blogging website. Users sign up for free accounts and then submit micro-blog entries called “tweets” which are limited to 140 characters in length. Entries can be submitted by a variety of means - some as simple as typing a message on a cell phone. You then simply start posting entries about what you’re thinking or doing.

Users of Twitter can also “follow” other users and get access to all their updates. Prominent Twitterers amass audiences of several thousand up to a million followers. Others have a small handful of followers.

Why Twitter?
The micro-blogging sensation has grown exponentially in just the last few months. Twitter’s surging popularity has seen its membership grow from around one million members a year ago to an estimated 20 million members today and several thousand new members join every day.

Why do people use Twitter? New York Times columnist David Pogue describes it as “a complicated cross between a chat room and private e-mail”. The founders of Twitter were looking for a way that people could keep in touch often and easily. The main theme of Twitter is stated simple on its web page - “What are you doing”? Entries can be as mundane as where you’re going, what you’re eating, what movie you just saw and so on. For some, Twitter provides a feeling of connectedness with others. For others, there’s definitely a large element of ego-stroking knowing that others are “following” your words and actions.

You’d have to wonder why anyone would care about the mundane, everyday details of another’s life. Do I really care whether you ate Fruit Loops or Cherios for breakfast? I certainly don’t need to hear that you had too much to drink last night and no offense, but if I need information about a new movie then I’ll read a newspaper review before searching for your blurted 30 character tweet as you walk out of the theater.

So why then is Twitter so popular? The fact is, many people broadcast really interesting comments in their tweets. If you hook up with like minded people then you can get important information that’s pertinent to your area of interest. You can also search for tweets on any topic much as you would use google. Follow firsthand the thoughts of political leaders, historians, cultural figures and more. Discover the latest developments in your industry. Get frontline, breaking news reports from people at the scene. When the recent wildfires broke in Australia people on the ground were tweeting about the location of the fires and the directions in which they were heading. When a US Airways plane famously landed in the Hudson River a few months ago, the news was initially broken in a tweet from a person that watched the plane land. Four minutes after the crash, he tweeted, “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson river in manhattan.” There are many interesting Twitter related tools as well. Try using Twitterfall - www.twitterfall.com - and type in a search term such as “global warming”. Watch live as posts about global warming from people all around the world scroll on screen. Corprate execs have also started to wake up to the potentials of using Twitter. Companies such as Starbucks and Amazon actively use Twitter for marketing and research.

There’s no question that Twitter can be another one of those incredible wasteful activities that keep us glued to our computer screens while everything that needs to get done sits waiting for attention. It can however also be an amazing communication tool that lets you know instantly about things that you care about. Someone is online tweeting about it right now.

You can follow Sam Gliksman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/samgliksman

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Sam Gliksman was born in Australia. As a child, the closest he ever came to technology was playing with a yo-yo that lit up at night. After college Sam made aliyah and took his...

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