Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let's Do The Tweet

'Twitter' meant nothing more than birds' chirping to me until recently.

For a long while, I was aware of the popularity of Twitter but I did not get close enough to know more. I thought, I have had enough of online social networking through Facebook alone, why would I need another? Certainly, a sociable hermit does not need so much socializing, ya?

Right now, I am on board Twitter and loving it. Before I go on, let's just fill everyone in with some Twitter basics.

What is Twitter

Twitter is one of the many online social networking sites available today. It offers mirco-blogging service that allows its users to send short updates to other users. These updates are known as 'tweets'.

Each 'tweet' is capped at 140 characters (hence 'micro') and due to its brevity, it is sometimes also known as "SMS on the Internet". It is obviously not designed for people with the urge to do a yakkety-yak.

Other users get to see your 'tweets' if they are your 'followers'. Similarly, you get to see updates by those whom you are 'following'. You have control over who can read your 'tweets' and you also have the options to send/receive 'tweets' via the Twitter website, SMS or other applications.

Initially, the 'tweets' were mainly trivial personal updates such as "Just arrived at the LA airport. Fine weather." Now, Twitter's power as an information sharing tool is evident. Famous people who has lots to share use it. Their followers in turn pass the information along to their followers. In the Twitter language, it is called "Re-Tweeting". The spread of information in Twitter is fast and viral.

Barack Obama used Twitter during the 2008 US Presidential campaigns. Celebreties such as Britney Spears reach out to their fans with it. Many commercial outfits too have found the charm of Twitter. In Singapore, our top Twitter, Xavier Lur (whom I am following) uses it to share his tech knowledge and snippets of his life as a 15-year old boy.

By now, Spears has more than 1.5 million followers and Obama has more than 1.2 million. Our young Xavier has close to 71,000.

Since its creation in 2006, Twitter's popularity shot up over a short span of time. It is now tailing behind Facebook (top, founded 2004) and MySpace (2nd, founded 2003).

Now let's get back to what made me use Twitter.

Me And Twitter

To begin with, I am no celebrity, I am no politician, I am no businessman and I probably have little to share. It makes no sense that I should have any motivation to use Twitter at all. But, Twitter charmed me, nonetheless.

My main agenda here is to take in knowledge, effectively.

Typically, it takes effort to browse websites and read long articles only to realise that I have wasted a good few minutes and yet not getting even a niblet of useful information.

In Twitter, I choose to follow like-minded people and allow them to lead me to useful websites. If any of them should excite me enough, I will find out more. In that way, it serves as my daily "Check This Out" index.

Besides good website leads, I also get updates which are witty, humorous and inspirational. I call these updates my daily "knowledge snacks".

As I use it, I come to discover more about the magic of Twitter.

Imagine this:

- A techy updates his followers on the cheapest tech accessories he has come to know and almost instantly, fellow techies jumped in to check them out. If they like it, they in turn 're-tweet' to their followers, thus starting a furious chain of information cascading.

- A foodie posts a question "Where can I find the best blueberry muffin?" and he gets various suggestions in minutes from his followers. Other followers too get to know about the muffins and the sharing continues through the networks of Twitter friends.

Move over, 'Lobang King'! (Singlish, noun: a person with good informal contacts or tips)

The use of Twitter is not limited to individuals and commercially motivated people. In Dec 2008, Israel became the first government to hold a press conference via Twitter, taking questions from the public about the country's war with Hamas.
Before Twitters, many bloggers post brief updates about themselves in blogging sites. Many of them have since switched to Twitters. However, such migration does not necessarily dilute the popularity of blogging. Instead, it allows blogs to be used for deeper discussions and sharing on lengthy opinions which cannot be achieved in Twitter.

In this info-tech era, information overload is everyone's headache. Twitter is one of my ways to manage this problem but its usefulness definitely does not end here. The Twitter ecosystem is growing organically and exponentially! I am glad I am part of this phenomenal growth.

Twitter's co-founder Evan William said during his talk in Feb 2009 that he has no idea what will happen next to Twitter. I guess no one knows. Whatever it is, millions are tweeting as I am writing this.

Are you ready to tweet?

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