Just what is so great about Twitter?

Will there be any end to the number of articles on blogs and in the regular media about the wonders of Twitter? Just how many angles are there? Twitter is a microblogging platform: you can "tweet" 140-word (max) posts and the world can follow you while you do it (and you can follow the world). An example of Twitter promotion: Barry Graubart on Content Matters blog points out that Blockbuster's Chapter 11 filing was first reported on Twitter. But actually, no it wasn't. In a later clarification he explains that it was first reported on Bloomberg, but in the half-hour before Google, Yahoo news et al picked it up, various people Twittered about it.  Could anyone have made or saved a fortune in that half-hour window (if it was a window, and wasn't being filled somewhere else as well as via Twitter posts)? You tell me, I'll stay poor and read about it in the newspaper (ink on paper edition) tonight.

Another Twitter fan, Ian Hocking of This Writing Life blog, analyses an article about the psychology of Twitter – and Ian is well-qualified to do so, being a psychologist himself. His take on the appeal of Twitter: "It seems to me that an important factor in the attractiveness of Twitter lies in the pseudo-random occurrence of things that we consider important. For us, this is something just plain interesting, like Stephen Fry sharing his views on a new gadget, or the fact that Roger N. Morris has shaved off his beard. Such things are not earth-quiveringly important (except to Roger’s dinner companions) but they do serve as reinforcers in the parlance of the behavioural psychologist."

Other perspectives on Twitter recently include:

Why is the media so obsessed with Twitter? Jon Stewart investigates (video).

'Stage of Fools' by Maureen Dowd at the New York Times. "If only Shakespeare had known how to Twitter". The piece actually consists of a Twittered list of "offensive bipartisan pork". I wouldn't disagree with the adjectives, but what is Twitter's unique contribution here?

John Battelle, "king of search", on why Google's chief calls Twitter a "poor man's email".

From The Guardian: If Maya Angelou isn't Maya Angelou, who is it? Or, my suggested title: just who was stuck in that lift? How do we know that "celebrity Twitterers" are who they say they are, or are they impostors, or (worse) people's publicists? Do we care? A spoof blog (Richard Madeley, Lady Bracknell et al.) can be amusing if the writer really knows the subject, but a spoof or "outsourced to personal assistant" Twitter? If you want to check them out regardless, celebrity Twitterers, including scientific ones, can be accessed here. My favourite comment in that thread: “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better”. The New York Times's take on media celebrity Twitterdom is here (link via Dave Lull).

For some balance, here are two nice posts by a colleague, Noah Gray: How I learned to stop ignoring the Web 2.0 and love the Twitter; and Tales from a recent Twitter convert. (To which another colleague, Henry Gee, replies: "towards absurdam, reductio.)

11 thoughts on “Just what is so great about Twitter?

  1. Thank goodness you didn’t quote that other statement Henry made on Noah’s post, Maxine… and yes, I am completely puzzled by Twitter, too. Are we missing something??

  2. Yes, I’ve had enough of controversy for a while, Steffi – I do seem to attract it! (Not on this rather staid blog, I trust, though.)
    Obviously Twitter does suit a lot of people – not me, though. (The Pope seems to be against it, which is at least one thing in its favour.)

  3. I don’t think Twitter changes the world, but it’s quite interesting to see little passing observations from people I know. Some use it to highlight interesting items they’ve just seen on the web. Others update me with their happenings (e.g. when a friend crashed his car).
    I personally never go to the Twitter website, I use TwitterFox, a little utility that sits in the corner of Firefox and pops up any tweets/lets me add my own any time I’m in the web browser. I also find it quite handy that I’ve linked Twitter to my Facebook status, so again I don’t have to go into Facebook to update this, also handy.
    For me, then, not life changing but quite fun. And if Stephen Fry likes it, can it be all bad?

  4. Agreed, Brian, I should get organized to do something like that. I don’t use FireFox so I’d need to find an application that does the same thing for IE. I think someone probably told me about one – Tweetdeck?

  5. I have decided that if I use twitter selectively it is extremely useful – it is mainly to do with linking as Ian Hocking says (sorry to mention this yet again but very much like Poincaré’s hooked atoms). Ideas come at me like those hooked atoms from Nature News, Nature Materials, Boing Boing, New Scientist, Scientific American etc and I click on the link and read what they say. The microchunks are important because I find them more enticing than long articles – although of course I can look at those too if I am really interested. They make me feel connected and up to date and I am excited about it. It’s like being at work or part of an intelligent community, better in fact because it is a conversation I can turn off or on at will. As a writer alone in my room it certainly makes me feel less isolated.
    I am avoiding most celeb type ones though because I find them boring after a short while.

  6. From John Battelle again http://battellemedia.com/archives/004849.php
    In the future, searches won’t only query what’s being said at the moment, but will go out to the Twitter audience in the form of a question, like a faster and less-filtered Yahoo Answers or Wiki Answers. Users would be able to tap the collective knowledge of the 6 million or so members of the Twitterverse.
    “You put a question out to the global mind, and it comes back,” Mr. Chaffee explained. “Millions of people are contributing to the knowledge base. The engine is alive. You get feedback in real time from people, not just documents.”

  7. I like Clare’s explanation, and the instant response search sounds powerful too.
    Someone else commented that Twitter is great because of the people who are on it. That suggests to me that it is just the latest wave, full of bright, enthusiastic and thoughtful early adopters. As Eva commented, we’ve had listserv and Usenet for years. At first those seemed cutting edge, and I recall in the early 1990s reading Usenet groups that seemed to be populated with the same bright, enthusiastic early adopters. Then they got more and more popular and overcrowded. Perhaps this just keeps happening with each new communication tool.

  8. I think the ‘overcrowded’ thing is what makes me wonder. How many tweets actually pop up in your window, Brian? And with this search engine, how many questions can feasibly come in and get answered? I guess I’ll have to give in and see for myself…

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