Textual’s Twitter Take Part I

18 11 2007

twitter.pngHere at Textual Relations HQ we love Twitter. We love it like a mother loves her baby. Only more. We’d let Twitter stay up late to watch movies then skip school the next morning. We’re cool like that. You only wish your mother was this cool.

A quick search for “twitter” will show five posts on the subject and for a blog that’s only been around for nine months (no jokes about Mr President being pregnant, please) and isn’t tech-focused (in fact the “Technology” category didn’t even exist before Twitter) is verging on stalker-like obsession. We’d probably better hide the night-vision goggles.

It’s for this reason that today marks the first part of a two-part series on Twitter. Well, actually, the reason for it being two-part is because rather than write one really long one, two slightly shorter ones get rid of two NaBloPoMo days instead of one. A devilishly ingenious plan don’t you think? What do you mean “no”? You ungrateful wretches.

What is Twitter? Well it’s actually pretty hard to define. Some smarty pants will probably go to Twitter’s website and pull their definition to make me look stupid (I would!) so I’ll beat them to the punch. Hah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

As a regular user of Twitter however (I even have two accounts) I’m not convinced that that is really an adequate explanation for what the service encompasses. Obviously that is what the creators envisioned when they devised the concept deep in their underground lair. Ok, maybe I made up the underground lair part. It sounds better than “sat in front of a computer on a Saturday night while all the cool kids are out partying”.

No, I think the actual users of Twitter have taken that ball and run with it. We have major news stations such as the BBC, CNN and even Reuters providing up to the hour news updates from around the world. Of course you can simply subscribe to their feed in a feed reader or desktop widget. I do that too. However the real bonus of following them on Twitter is when you set up notifications on your mobile phone.

Originally these had to be turned on/off for all the people you were following which meant either your phone got spammed or you never got any notifications. Now, however, you can simply select those you want notifications for and those you’re happy to simply follow when you’re in front of a computer. Although you can receive up-to-date news alerts on your mobile through other means, these often incur a charge. Twitter is free. Want free news updates on your mobile? Sign up for Twitter.

Not only can you follow major news organisations on your phone but if you so wish you can receive updates from your favourite bloggers via Twitter too. Textual Relations has its own Twitter page, the contents of which vary from news links (with unique Presidential commentary) to rants and diatribes. All that and you get updates on new blog posts too. However far more prominent bloggers than I are on Twitter, including Jeff Pulver, Robert Scoble and the delightful iJustine (even her iPhone gets in on the act).

So Twitter is about far more than just friends, family and co-workers, it’s about news and the blogosphere too. Yet let’s not lose sight of the original purpose here. Some people have told me they don’t have a use for Twitter. Setting aside the two uses above (let’s face it, not everyone wants news or blog updates) there’s something far more social involved. Most computer users use their personal computers (by that I exclude work machines) for social purposes, be it chat, email or forums. It’s all about communication with our friends. After all, look at the explosion of social networks.

Why not use Twitter as a chat facility? On my personal account (no, you don’t get a link) I’ve had many “chat” conversations, and what sets it aside from standard IM services is the multi-user aspect. Conventional IM requires that multi-user conversations be “created” by manually inviting every participant. This is great if you want to restrict the conversation but sometimes it’s great to let things happen organically. Instead of being controlled the conversation flows into unforeseen areas. Chaos can be fun sometimes.

Twitter broadcasts your “chats” to a larger audience, yet obviously there are circumstances where you wish things to remain more private. That would be where standard IM comes in but may leave the case for using Twitter a little weak. After all one of the main issues underpinning this article is my belief that Twitter is one of the most undervalued and underused services on the internet, and one capable of being so much more if people simply start using it. The fact that only one of my regular readers (thanks Jayne) follows Textual Relations on Twitter made me realise just how underused it is.

Let’s assume you don’t want news updates on your mobile phone for free. Let’s assume you check your feed reader so regularly throughout the day that you’re on top of all the blogs you read and don’t actually care what the bloggers have to say outside of “blog hours”. Further, let’s assume you either have no friends or don’t want/need another way to stay in touch with them. The latter actually makes more sense until you factor in the fact that none of you actually have friends (or you wouldn’t read the junk I write).

Given that, why use Twitter? Well I know that many of the remaining doubters will be creative types, and in fact I suspect a few of you reading this may even be taking part in NaNoWriMo. Well some users of Twitter have taken the concept so far away from social aspects that they’ve transcended micro-blogging into micro-novels. Some are more successful than others but one I do like is Zombie Attack (I see SomeGo’s eyes are probably lighting up about now). So if you love writing, and particularly if you like a writing challenge, why not try writing a micro-novel? I might try it myself.

Finally, if you don’t like news updates on your mobile phone for free (or know of some other way to get them, in which case, tell me!), don’t want bloggers pestering you with their inane ramblings, have no friends (for those of you that do have friends I can arrange a hitman) and have not got a creative bone in your body you can follow Vader.



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