By Rebekah Graham and Courtney Ryan
Twitter is an online social networking site that was developed by Jack Dorsey in 2006. On the Twitter about page, it claims to be “the fastest, simplest, way to stay close to everything you care about.” Twitter is a tool for connecting people – not just locally and personally but really in a more globally-minded sense as well. It is a “real-time information network” – something people can look at to stay updated at all times. Members can use this popular platform to vent, share, reflect, inspire, or learn. If what you have to say fits within the 140-character limit, you can say it. That is the basis of the idea. If words simply don’t do the matter justice, you can also choose to post photos and videos. Today, over 500 million people use Twitter to make their voices heard.
But what is the significance of this website? What makes it different from other social media? For instance, when one has the ability to post a Facebook status, what would be the reason to write a tweet instead? It appears that one main explanation can account for this difference. For the most part, twitter is something that is public. A tweet’s purpose is to be shared – to connect people, places, and communities to one another. It just wouldn’t make much sense to have a twitter account that only the user can see. Likewise, a tweet isn’t necessarily meant to be personal. This is where the idea of hashtags comes in. When a twitter user writes a tweet and uses hashtags, he or she is making an effort to connect with others using that same hashtag. It’s like an online gathering of sorts – a pool of thoughts, news, and ideas. The use of a hashtag automatically connects the tweeter to others who are also interested in the same topic.
At its core, Twitter is a conversation. Looking at it this way may make it seem little different from an online forum or discussion board, but this is not the case. Twitter is unique in that it is highly portable; one can even use it right from a cell phone. Additionally, the 140-character limit also changes the way users approach this particular networking tool. Whereas on a discussion board one can write an entire essay or monologue, on Twitter the user does not have this option. He or she must be succinct and concise. This style of sharing promotes a more realistic form of conversation that has a natural flow. In other words, it is more like a face-to-face conversation than writing entire letters back and forth.
Another interesting aspect of Twitter is the fact that it is a representation of various populations and as such can be used as a way to procure data for research, to provoke a social movement, or to gather information for various other purposes. For instance, Twitter has been known for its role in the Arab Spring and the 2011 Egyptian revolution. It has also been used as a source of information for workers in public health. Although these types of things are intriguing, they are not altogether unexpected. But, what about when a person uses tweets to create music? The video below is about such a project created by Britten Sinfornia, Peter Gregson, and Daniel Jones. Take a couple minutes to check out the uncommon way this trio chose to use the resources that twitter has to offer.
Twitter’s versatility, rapid growth, and ever-increasing popularity are evidence of society’s need to communicate in this convenient and effective way. Whether a person uses it to keep friends and family updated on his or her personal life or just to “follow” the everyday updates of his or her favorite celebrity, that individual is taking part in an important, formative social media movement. Twitter is about more than speaking out to a vast world, hoping one’s voice might be heard; it is about joining with others to turn a whisper into a shout. Twitter is a community of very different people with surprisingly common interests.