Twitter. Love it or hate it, it looks as though they are here to stay for a while. But, why is Twitter useful to the masses? When I first read about this micro-blogging site back in 2006 I didn’t know what to think. I mean, how could an entire website be based on one question, “What are you doing?” The service has changed over time. But the basic idea still remains; tell the world what you are doing in 140 characters or less.
It didn’t seem logical, and the fact that they kept having downtime issues early on made it all the more difficult to see any value in the service. It didn’t take long, however, for other companies to jump on board and either start their own micro-blogging service or use the idea in an existing service, mainly, Facebook. A funny thing started happening. People started using the service, a lot of people. I would read articles about their growth from time to time, and go and look at the front page, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sign up for the free service.
In 2008 and 2009 a few things happened that gave Twitter some real credibility and I began to really see where this thing was going. A term called the Realtime Web popped up in articles all over the blogosphere and Twitter, much to my surprise, became a viable source of news.
First, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. My RSS feed blew up with updates about the attacks and many of them originated from pictures. All of the sudden, minutes after things were happening they were being reported on and talked about on Twitter. Pictures of things that were happening ‘right now’ were uploaded to the site and those that were there felt like a part of the whole terrible situation. Twitter was beating the networks to the news. This peeked my interest. But I was still reluctant. Did I have the time or the energy for another web service in my everyday life? Apparently, not yet.
Second, on January 17, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 went down in the
Hudson River. Everyone survived thanks to an amazing pilot. And, all were saved thanks to the quick thinking of the flight crew and help from the people in the surrounding area. It was an amazing story made even more amazing by the fact that just moments after the plane went down, the news was out…on Twitter. Pictures flew on to sites like TwitPic and those people who were on Twitter at the time, again, became part of the action. It was this event that did it for me. I couldn’t miss another big event because I wasn’t participating the the Realtime Web.
Third, the inauguration of President Barack Obama and January 20, 2009. I was there (on twitter) for this one. And, as expected, I felt a part of the big event. A distant relative was at the ceremony and updating her Twitter account throughout the day. She didn’t put up a lot of updates, but what she didn’t say was said by so many others on Twitter. I had realtime updates from people sitting there watching the event, from people walking around Washington DC experiencing history. It wasn’t really the stuff the news would cover, which made it all the better. Yes, I wanted to know about the big stuff, the ceremonial changing of the guards as it were. What I really wanted to know, however, was exactly what Twitter was providing; life happening at the inauguration.
I’m still trying to find my way on the site. I don’t have a lot of people following me, but I am following those people whom I think will provide the best experience. If I read an article and like what the author is saying or how they say it, then I can look them up and follow them to get a more personalized perspective on who they are. If I read the one to two line bio of someone who seems interesting, then I can easily follow them. And, hopefully a few people will find me interesting enough to follow and care a little bit about my updates.
Find out more about how Twitter was born here.