Alright, so everyone has heard about it. Some of you probably use it. But most people have a very hard time explaining what the heck Twitter even is…
So I’ll try my hand at this. The aim is to write a short description of why so many people love Twitter so much, and explain why it is a major new form of communication, just like email and instant messaging were in their time.
If I do things right, next time your friends ask you about Twitter and you go insane trying to explain it, you can just send them to this article and they should have a vague idea of why it’s such a great tool.
Ok here we go.
What twitter is
First let me do a brief description of how it works:
1) You create an account and send short “status updates”. This creates a page where all your status updates are displayed chronologically (twitter.com/yourname).
2) You chose other people to “follow”. The updates from all these people will appear on your twitter home page when you log in (twitter.com/home).
3) Consequently, all the people who follow you (friends, family, fans) will see all your updates.
4) If you include “@nameofperson” in your message, that person will see it whether they are following you or not.
It might seem simple and obvious, but this tool effectively creates a way for thousands and thousands of people to communicate effectively without talking over one another.
“Dude, it’s just like Facebook” – “Hey, I can do that with Messenger!” – “But email works just like that!” – …
First of all, don’t “dude” me when you’re talking about Facebook, it makes you sound like Myspace. And second, I can assure you that whatever you think it’s like, it is not.
Twitter is very unique for a great many reasons. Understanding that is important. So to that effect, now that you know what twitter is, let me tell you what it’s not.
What twitter is not
- It’s not email:
If you want to send information to your friends via email, you will have to manually select each of them. Here, one “tweet” will instantly go out for everyone to see with no effort. It also has an Instant Messaging quality to it, so people don’t need to “check” their email, they will most likely get the update instantly.
- It’s not Instant Messaging:
You are not required or even expected to see and / or respond to anything on Twitter. If you’re there to read it, fine. If you’re not, cool. You can read those later anyway. Sort of like you would on Facebook: you check it whenever you have time to keep up with your friends.
- It’s not Facebook:
Social networks are typically symmetrical, meaning that whoever you are friends with also has to be friends with you. You hear what they say, they hear what you say. So no one person can reasonably claim to understand anything if they’re above a couple hundred friends (oh, and I don’t care what your friend Casey says, she doesn’t actually have 346 friends).
Twitter is asymmetrical, so if you follow someone, they won’t automatically follow you too. This means that one person can be followed by hundreds or thousands of people and not be clogged with all the constant updating they will do. Great for famous people. In a way it’s kind of what happens on a forum: you put something out and lots of people can read it.
- It’s not a forum:
A forum is complex and very segmented. If you want to talk about this, you need to do it here, in that thread, or you will disturb its flow. Twitter has no real categories per se, deep meaningful conversations isn’t what it was designed for. Sure there are ways to categorize your tweets (#topic will classify your tweet as related to that topic), but in essence it’s more “short bursts of conversation” that die out rather fast. It’s like having a constant giant chat room along with you all the time.
- It’s not a chat room:
Chat rooms are impossible to moderate when you go above a certain number of participants. Not so with Twitter, since you yourself chose who you listen to. If someone is bordering on spammy, just drop them and you’re fine.
But at the same time, other people will listen to different people, and the whole network is pervasive. For example, you follow A who says something awesome (Chinese Democracy rocks). You repeat it in your feed, and B and C hear it too, and respond (Chinese Democracy sucks). A might follow C and say something to that response (Eat crap you Celine Dion lover!)
Like I said, a giant room with thousands and thousands of people having conversations at the same time and not talking over one another. And believe it or not, it’s both civil and interesting most of the time. It has to be: when it’s not, you just stop listening. It’s like magic, really.
So as you can see, Twitter is a little bit of everything else but not quite the same as everything else. It borrows from the ways we use to communicate today, blends them together, leaves some things out, adds some things in, and comes out as something completely new.
And it doesn’t replace the old things either! It just adds to the mix. No one stopped using email when ICQ came out and IMs became popular. No one stopped calling people on the phone when email arrived. New tools just make some things easier, very rarely are they supposed to replace the old ones. So I can assure you that Twitter is not supposed to be Facebook or email, nor should you not want to use it because you already have those.
Twitter is another tool that lets us stay in touch and communicate and exchange ideas and knowledge (and essential information about the number of cups of coffee you’ve had today) in a new and wonderful way…
So I guess I’ll stop there; by now you hopefully have an idea of how and why Twitter is as innovative as it is cool. But to really understand the beauty of twitter you have to try it for yourself. I’m sorry, I know it’s what everyone says, but it’s because it’s true… So please give it a try and see if you like it. You might not, but at least you’ll know what all the fuss is about.
By the way, you can follow me at twitter.com/notpatrick. You won’t be sorry.
Well, you probably will, but it’ll be too late.