Twitter: To Tweet or not to Tweet

LANCE ARMSTRONG has just had his bike nicked – and broken his collar bone, Jonathan Ross is taking his sick dog to the vet, Stephen Fry is enjoying his day off in Bali (and looking very tanned and svelte I must say), Ashton Kutcher is missing his missus… and Marj from Cincinnati is gonna have a quick … (!) before she picks up the kids from school. twitter-logo

And how do I know these gems? From the 140-character world of the latest social networking craze – Twitter. Move over Facebook and MySpace – Twitter is the SMS (short message service) of choice among 25s and overs.

What is Twitter?

What the hell’s a tweet? And, more to the point, what IS the point of this latest addition to social networking? Does anyone really care what you’re thinking? For the uninitiated, Twitter (essentially a micro-blogging site) was set up by California net nerds, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams in March 2006. A February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranks Twitter as the third largest social network (behind Facebook) and puts the number of users at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visitors at 55 million.[1] And climbing… Backed by venture capitalists – to the tune of around $57 million – as of January 2009, Twitter still sells no advertising space and makes no obvious revenue. Interesting… Although the founders are in constant talks with other tech giants, most recently Google.

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Talk, Talk

Simply put, a Tweet is a message sent on Twitter. To send or receive a Tweet, you have to create a free account with Twitter via your mobile phone or your computer. It’s a good idea to encourage friends and contacts to create accounts, too, and start following people you find interesting. You can also download specific Twitter apps (applications). They are sometimes called “twitter tools”, “twitter add-ons” etc, but are simply websites which have built-in scripts that complement Twitter. For maps, try Twitter Atlas, Mr Tweet will do a people search for you, Twidget is a widget application and Twitterific and Twit Rank will give you the current top 50 Twitters in the world. Barack Obama is numero uno, closely followed by Stephen Fry with nearly 400,000 followers.

Tweets can only contain text, you can’t yet include pictures, video or other computer files with Tweet messages. Members who want people in their network to look at multimedia content must find a Web page to host the files, then send a message containing the page’s address to their networks. Twitter converts all addresses more than 30 characters in length into tiny URLs – links that compress the full Web site address to conserve space.

News feed

Twitter really became known to a wider public when news of the Hudson River plane crash earlier this year reached Twitter users well before the newsrooms. Now, every news gathering organisation in the world has a presence on Twitter. They are finding their stories on Twitter and from blogs. And as for the celeb influx to the medium? The New York Times reports that musos such as 50 Cent, Kanye West, Britney Spears and politicians like Barack Obama and Ron Paul all rely on teams of personal assistants to ghostwrite their tweets (!) to an ever-hungry public. So celebs and news agencies are harnessing the power of immediate communication, what about business?

Twitbiz

Some companies are using Twitter as a marketing or public relations service, much like an extension to their corporate blogs, while others allow their employees to tweet for them. Using search tools such as search.twitter.com or desktop applications like TweetDeck makes it easy to keep tabs on talk about the company, its product names, or even the industry as a whole. This way they can eavesdrop on early warnings of problems and gain valuable feedback on product issues or ideas.

The future?

Well, it all looks pretty rosy for Twitter. The latest numbers from Nielsen Online indicate that Twitter grew 1,382% year-over-year in February this year, registering a total of just more than 7 million unique visitors in the US alone for that month. Users elsewhere are catching on fast too. In fact, according to last Wednesday’s Guardian (25 March 2009), the British Government now wants children to learn about “social and collaborative communications, including e-mails, messages, blogs, wikis and twitters”, as part of the English curriculum. They must gain “fluency” in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a spellchecker alongside how to spell. So it’s goodbye to Beatrix Potter and hello “click, click”. Looks like Twitter will soon have a wider demographic than its current older fanbase.

I wonder how the great Bard would have coped with a 140-character sonnet? Under sufferance, methinks.

Happy tweeting tweeps!

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Twitter.com

1. Kazeniac, Andy (February 9, 2009). “Social Networks: Facebook Takes Over Top Spot, Twitter Climbs”. Compete.com. http://blog.compete.com/2009/02/09/facebook-myspace-twitter-social-network/.