I first heard about twitter a couple of years ago and my knee-jerk reaction was that it sounded like something I would never want anything to do with. However, I heard the word enough to warrant a quick look. "What are you doing" are the words above a white box where one can share in a maximum of 140 characters what it is they are doing. My very first thought--Who cares?! Then a flood of thoughts, a rant really, fluttered through my mind--Yagottabekiddinme! I'm a busy person, why would I waste my time finding out what everyone is doing?! Isn't facebook for that? I don't even have time for facebook! Why are people using this?! How narcissistic can we get...what's happening to this world...people are losing their minds, that's what...this whole social networking, microblogging, Web 2.0 stuff is getting completely out of hand--you get the idea.
I vowed never to consider such a waste of time. I had already pared down much of my Web 2.0 arsenol to only those things I felt were most useful because my time was at a premium, twitter wouldn't even be considered. Those were my thoughts two years ago.
It's hard to remember what article or blog post it was that caused me to reconsider. Twitter was being mentioned regularly by all kinds of media and I noticed that many of the authors from blog and news feeds I subscribed to were using twitter. These were bloggers and journalists I respected, they were busy and productive people. I knew I had to take another look. This time I created a twitter account. That was over a year ago. Now twitter is one of my favorite and most useful tools, which is hard to believe given my initial impression.
So what is it about twitter that makes it so useful to me? Well, I'm a bit of an information junkie and an early adopter of technology. I'm interested in new information relevant to my job and my interests (much is related to emerging technologies). I look for Web 2.0 and beyond technologies that will serve a need and will provide me with maximum value for my time and effort. Twitter is quick and easy to use and enables me to find people to follow who talk about and provide links to information that I find very useful. And that information tends to be very new, and very now and oftentimes includes a short commentary by the tweeter. Twitter also saves me time as I no longer have to read all my feeds for the majority of my information needs. In return I provide information and links to the twitterverse and those who find what I share of interest can choose to become my followers.
There's also additional value I receive from twitter, which was not apparent to me in my early days. I can tap the resources and expertise of my followers. At times I've been shocked by the value of the service that's been provided. More than once I felt I should send a check to a person for "twitter services rendered." An example is the time I sent out a tweet that I had made changes to the course wiki I had set up in an attempt to make it look good on all platforms with all main browsers. In short order I received a tweet with an offer to take a look (by a helpful smart techie prof, at that!). I sent the wiki link in a tweet and quickly received word that it looked good using XP/FF3 and then an offer to look at it using other browsers. In no time at all I was told my wiki was "reasonably consistent across FF3, Safari, Chrome, Opera and IE!" This is just one example.
I should also mention that how I use twitter can be very different from how others use twitter. There is no right or wrong way to use this tool, it's up to the user to decide.
BTW-I do not agree with the twitter home page where it states "What" twitter is - "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?" It certainly can be and is used for that purpose, but there are many who, like myself, use twitter for very different purposes.
With so many very social social networks along the lines of facebook, I appreciate having a tool where I don't feel I have to be social. I can simply use this tool to my advantage and share in return and maybe along the way make a handful of connections, but that's not my main purpose in using twitter. I follow only a small handful of friends, family and/or co-workers and vice versa (I'll never "connect" with the vast majority of those I follow). And now that facebook has incorporated some big twitter like changes, I would think most using twitter for the purpose described on the twitter home page will perhaps end up using facebook instead.
For a good understanding of why facebook, twitter and a slew of other microblogging and social networks are so popular start with this excellent Sept 2008 NYTimes article "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy"(log in-free)
(I decided to add this newly published post "Trouble with Twitterers? Depends who you ask…" The educator who wrote it uses twitter in similar ways and does a great job of explaining the process he uses to decide who he follows.)
Following are useful links helpful to further understanding twitter:
What Twitter brings to the party
NYTimes Twitter? It’s What You Make It
Sixteen Great Twitter Moments