Erin’s Blog

Twitter: What the tweet is everyone talking about?!

twitterPerhaps I’m just that far out of the loop, or simply just sucked into the Facebook lifestyle, but I have no idea what everyone is talking about when they say “Twitter” or “Tweet.” What sticks out in my head is the opening to Rockin’ Robin, you know, “tweetle dee dee dee, he rocks in the tree tops all day long…”

Although I was watching The Daily Show the other day (March 2) and Jon Stewart went on and on about how despite the fact he doesn’t know how to use it, it was awful for Congress members to twitter during President Obama’s address to Congress on February 24. This I have to agree with. Even if Congress members aren’t paying attention, don’t let the whole world know. Just like my post about Facebook getting people fired, the Internet really is biting people in the ass these days!

So, besides hearing people in my IMC class talk about Twitter and hearing Jon Stewart say it was bad for Congress members to use during Obama’s speech, I knew nothing about it. Therefore I decided to figure it out! Wikipedia had a great Tweeter page:

“Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service. It enables its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.”

This seems fine and dandy. It’s fun updating people on what you’re doing, or perhaps even writing silly commentary or your short thoughts on timely subjects. This reminds me of something…hmm…oh yeah, Facebook status updates.

Facebook status...looks a lot like Twitter, doesn't it?

Facebook status...looks a lot like Twitter, doesn't it?

Nowadays there are even Facebook applications so Twitter can pick up on what people write in their Facebook status, hitting two birds with one stone. At this point, all I have to ask is what’s the difference? Why not just have one? Why have both a Twitter, which updates people on what you’re doing, and a Facebook, which has a status update bar, that also updates people on what you’re doing?

One Blogger, Shannon Clark, wrote in his December 2007 post Twitter vs. Facebook Status for social awareness that he did notice a difference between the two. While I may not get it because I don’t have a Tweeter account, he explained:

While my friends are fairly active in keeping their Facebook status messages active and updated, I get a richer and deeper picture of what they are doing via Twitter – and I think they get more from my use of Twitter than from my use of Facebook

In large part of this because Twitter is, as my friends use it, a mix of conversational tool AND ongoing stream of updates. However on Facebook my friend’s status messages are usually interspersed amongst a mix of other news feed items (and yes, I know about the dedicated means of viewing just friend’s status updates) but even there it is a single, short message – not a part of an ongoing conversation. Unlike on Twitter, on Facebook there is not a rich, simple way to view someone’s status messages over time – and do so for all of your friends over time in the same view.

Twitter on the other hand is an ongoing conversation between my friends – some of whom are also talking with each other, many of whom only I (among my friends) follow. I Twitter questions, notes about what I am doing, observations about the world around me and my life – and as happened frequently today I get back comments, suggestions, and feedback from friends across the planet.

I also get to see in real time when friends are all gathered together (they usually end up twittering about the same stuff – this weekend it was a bunch of friends in LA for the Winnies awards for videobloggers). I get to hear about the first snowfall of the season in NY, about storms in Portland, about news in nearly realtime as it is reported (tonight it was the announcement and blog posts about LiveJournal being sold by Six Apart).

Tonight as well I reconnected with a friend back in Chicago via twitter – I had followed his posts earlier today about the weather and working in Chicago, tonight he commented on my tweets about spending the weekend alone, and our friendship was in a very real way strengthened.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and use Facebook for many things – but twitter, for all of the apparent simplicity of the tool…is by far the most impactful tool I have adopted this year in sheer terms of adding value and richness to my life nearly every single day.

Well, geeze, who can argue his point? I see what he’s trying to say, simply by the way he described it, although I don’t know a single person with a Tweeter account…or at least they’ve yet to advertise it to me!

How many people are on Tweeter, then? The Wikipedia article helps again:

In November 2008, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research estimated that Twitter had 4 to 5 million users. A February 2009 blog entry ranks Twitter as the third largest social network (MySpace would be second and Facebook would be the largest in the world), and puts the number of users at roughly 6 million and the number of month visitors at 55 million.

Speaking of Twitter usage, people keep talking about famous people Twittering and their Tweets being from a fake person…Luckily an Associated Press article explains what famous, and often infamous, stars are Tweeting:

There are star athletes (Shaquille O’Neal, Lance Armstrong), politicians (Sen. John McCain, President Obama before taking office) and stars ranging from the A-list to eh D-list.

Some, like Britney Spears, usually post messages written by their supporting staff, simply announcing various events. Others, like Jimmy Fallon, are clearly promoting a new venture – in Fallon’s case, his new late-night show on NBC…

John Hodgman, a Daily Show correspondent and popular microblogger, said in an interview via twitter: ‘What I really love is a) the harsh discipline of 140 char. b) the playfulness. It’s a parlor game w/1 rule, inf. variations.’

One of the most popular microbloggers is MC Hammer, the ’90s rap star who has remade himself in the last decade as an Internet entrepreneur and co-founder of the video site He has more than 157,000 ‘followers’ – users who receive his Twitter feed.

‘It creates a new form of communication where we can actually see each other as people, humanizing the celebrity,’ said Hammer…’To me, it’s a great human interaction that happens. Most of the time you hear something from a celeb when there’s a new project coming – ‘My new movie is coming,’ ‘My new album is coming.’ You only see them in those sound bites. But with the Twitter platform, you’re not only able to see what his or her life is like on a day-to-day basis…but hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute.’

With [Lance] Armstrong, one gets a sense of -among other things-his daily workout routine while he pursues his cycling comeback: ‘Heading out for a ride. Got 5 hours today. Just rollin’ around.’

…Ashton Kutcher and his wife, Demi Moore, (who posts under the name ‘mrskutcher’) are the most famous Twitter couple, and their tweets often reflect against each other. One from Kutcher: ‘this just in demi doesn’t pee or poop or fart…ever.’

Julio Ojeda-Zapata, author of Twitter Means Business explains Twitter as a ‘virtual water cooler’ where the amous must mingle just like everyone else.

This sounds like a lot of fun, actually. I’d love to have up to date information about what my favorite stars are doing. Looking at the “Stars are like you!” pages in gossip magazines doesn’t cut it. Yes, they take out their trash, yes they pick up their dry-cleaning, but come on…I guess I’m just another one of those gossip/star-loving girls!

One major impediment, though” the article continues, “is the number of fake accounts updated by impersonators. More than 72,000 are following a fake Stephen Colbert. There are dozens of plainly fictional accounts pretending to be characters like Darth Vader and Borat. A spokeswoman for Tina Fey confirmed that the 89,000 people following Fey on Twitter are being duped.

Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, said…’Fake accounts can be inconvenient and impersonation is against our terms of service. Providing account verification might be a good opportunity to enhance the Twitter experience for everyone – that’s something for us to think about.’

 In fact, many celebrities, the article sites Britney Spears, come to Twitter simply to take ownership of their name rather than let an impersonation form or continue to go on.

Although I don’t feel the need to get a Twitter since I don’t personally know anyone with one…I can see the upside of it. It seems fun, chatty, humorous, quaint. One of these days, maybe, but as for now, I’m stickin’ with my beloved Facebook!