– The Technique, Georgia Tech, 4/3/09, Opinion Article
I’m pretty sure most of you reading this newspaper have heard of Twitter by now, but for those uninitiated few, Twitter is an online “microblogging” service that let’s users post brief messages called “tweets” with a maximum of 140 characters.
Why 140, you ask? Well, that’s the character limit for a standard text message on a modern mobile phone. The purpose of the short and simple approach is that at any given time you will have your mobile phone with you and can text out to Twitter what you’re doing.
Sure, with an initial glance at Twitter, the concept seems really dumb. Why would anyone care what I’m doing now, and do I really want anyone to know these things? I think the answer to this question is largely a generational thing. Look at the demographic of Twitter or social networking as a whole. The large majority of these users are typically quite young—somewhere around the 16-35 age group; most have used a computer for the majority of their lives.
The personal computer explosion began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and has grown exponentially from there. The people of the information generation are a lot more comfortable with computers and seem to embrace the many things, no matter how seemingly strange or completely random, the Internet and computers can provide. So, it comes at no surprise that someone like myself—and four to five million other users—have embraced Twitter.
Going back to the question of why anyone would care about what I’m doing, the answer is, “Why not?” The whole point of social networking is to meet, connect and socially interact with other people. By posting little snippets about your day, like that cool movie you just saw or that totally awesome restaurant you just went to, other people could find that interesting or find out something that they didn’t know before.
One could, from reading your tweet, go look up more information on that movie or restaurant that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about. It’s about sharing experiences, both the good and bad. There’s something inherent in the new information generation that compels us to want to share things with people.
Twitter turned three years old in March this year, and it has been getting a lot of press time lately—literally. For instance, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez tweets from his desk on air. The media exposure has increased Twitter’s popularity dramatically to the point that members of traditional media and older generations are embracing it.
Yes, my mother has joined and is following me on Twitter. I doubt my grandmother will follow suit, though, as she’s still confounded by my mother’s profile on “Facepage.” One consequence of Twitter’s explosion into the mainstream is the increasing numbers of older people asking about Twitter and what it is. At least now I can show them this article and get back to my “Internetz.”
Not only has Twitter grown simply in the number of users, but it is also becoming a completely new form of communication. This is perhaps the most exciting feature of Twitter for me. I am able to follow newswire services, which in many cases lets me get breaking news many minutes before other news outlets. Want to know right now what’s going on in the world? Head over to Twitter. I also can follow different websites that update Twitter whenever there’s something new to check out on the site. It’s also a great way to find fun and interesting things on the Internet through people posting links in their tweets.
There’s also a way for Twitter to function like a wide open chat room discussion on popular topics or events with the use of “hash tags,” which are denoted in a person’s tweets by a pound sign followed by a keyword. The search function of Twitter is then able to track these keywords and show related users who are also tweeting about it. The possibilities of what people can do with Twitter are astonishing. Go give it a Google and see what you find.
So when someone asks you what’s the point of Twitter, answer back that it’s a new Internet-based communication network where friends and other people can share information. If he or she still doesn’t get it just show him or her this article, perhaps that might help. However, if by some chance, the person just can’t grasp this darn thing, just give a small chuckle, and say: “It’s just the Internet, grandpa.”