Printed 2017/07/27 08:59PM

What is Twitter?

By Steve Jones, 2009/05/21

I saw an interesting blog post from Andy Leonard (@AndyLeonard) recently on what he thought Twitter was. I'd started my own post here, with some thoughts, and had to go back and rewrite things (Thanks, Andy!). He got me thinking, and I agree, it's something completely new.

I had started, as Andy did, with a "what Twitter is not" section, but I decided to not save the punch line. So I'll start with what I think Twitter is.

Those are the two best descriptions that I can come up with, and I'll give you a few reasons why I think so.

A Sidewalk Conversation

It's the world's longest sidewalk, with an infinite length, able to hold an infinite number of people, but everyone's moving so fast, you're never quite sure if you're talking to anyone, or just yourself. You might engage a person, or a group of people, in conversation. You can send tweets back and forth, by replying to someone. They'll get . You can whisper to just one person in a direct message, or you can just broadcast your thoughts to the world.

Who may or may not be listening. People might "follow you" and hear what you say, or they might miss it in the clutter of other people talking to them. People might even block you, the equivalent of putting their hands over their ears when you open your mouth. Of course, you can do the same thing back.

It's a new way of interacting with a group of people, but a group you can't completely control. Or at least, I'm not sure you want to.

The Democratization of the Sound Bite

A sound bite is usually a short phrase taken from someone's speech or writing, intended to convey their meaning in a short form. It should be the main thrust of what they were trying to get across, but as we've seen in the media, it's often what's the most interesting, funny, or attention grabbing.

Usually only famous people (politicians, movie stars, athletes) have their words repeated in the media. With Twitter, anyone's 140 character sound byte is broadcast to the world. And with a retweet, people can re-broadcast your words along Twitter's ability to act like a telephone tree.

Anyone can be famous in 140 characters or less.

A Longer Explanation

I get wordy, so if your curiosity is satisfied, stop here and move along.

You kind of have a relationship with others using Twitter. They're online, they're connected to you (or you to them), and they can interact with you. It's more like being in a large conference or event where even though you might not personally know everyone you pass, they have some tenuous link to you.

We all have name badges, like @AndyLeonard, @SQLDBA, or @Way0utwest (me), or @Oprah, and anyone can view who's behind those badges. At least to the extent you've published something about yourself. Twitter can act as a host and handle the introductions, by allowing anyone to get that information that you put in the profile about yourself.

You can say something, with a "tweet", that might be directed directly at someone, or the equivalent of broadcasting a note to those within earshot. The difference is this hallway has an infinite length, can include an infinite number of people listening in. It's also logged, but that's a separate issue (and something to be cognizant of).

Just like you have those people in the real world that talk too much, some people appear to "tweet" too much. Some people want to sell you things, like . Others give coupons through promotions, like Zagg. John McCain publishes thoughts as well as notes about what he's doing (including rooting for basketball teams), President Obama has staffers dropping notes for him. Sarah Plain lets us know what's happening in Alaska, which bills she signs, and sure does thank a lot of people for their work.

In short, it's what you make of it.

Wikipedia says it's "micro blogging", but that leaves out the interactivity of it. I have had conversations with people, like the coffee v tea battle. I have seen tech support given out by Paul Randal. A NBA player was admonished for tweeting during a game, and another posted tweets during a recent suspension.

It's a answering questions at the world's largest press conference being held just for you. Everyone shouting at the same time that's interested, and you answering those that you want to.

Or not answering and just talking about what you're doing, and what you're interested in.

Twitter is unique, it's unlike any interaction I've ever had with people. It's fun, interesting, and inspiring. It connects me to friends near and far, and enriches my life. I'd urge you to give it a try and let me know what you think.

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