When I first heard of Twitter, I figured that it couldn’t be that useful if it only worked on 140 characters. I neglected the power of the link. I stayed away from it for the last few years due to the fact that I did not have access to a smart phone. I did dip my toes into the stream just to see what the crack was but I got that disorientation that is common among new users and I skedaddled out of there. Not before I did a bit of experimentation with it though. Myself and an archaeologist friend set up a twitter account for a Stone Age entrepeneur from the Boyne Valley (@neilolithic) just to take a phenomenological approach to daily life in the neolithic, but it was too time consuming and too much of an imaginative leap for us on a daily basis. I left it for a while but got back to the platform lately as a result of work wanting me to connect their Facebook page with a Twitter account. So, where did Twitter appear from? It was created by Jack Dorsey in 2006, in an effort to allow software engineers working on a project to let each other know what they were up to at any given time so they would not have to interrupt their work. It is primarily a communication and collaboration tool inspired by SMS and Livejournal. It took Dorsey two weeks to build. Unlike more traditional companies, these software engineers had a background in the open source movement and they instantly began to share it with their friends. This blurring of the boundaries between work and personal life is one of the changes that social media platforms have brought. Not only was it important that they share what they were working on, but also what flavour pizza they were eating was thrown into the mix. It is this extra flavour which, in my opinion, allows people to join conversations and make connections. These connections allow ideas to spread much faster than traditional avenues. The impact of Twitter on politics was apparent during the Arab Spring risings and it has the possibility to bring more transparency into areas that are usually hidden from people, although that is claimed of most communication channels before they are controlled. There is, of course, a Twitter ads section so the company can make money, but I have no experience of that. One of its greatest assets is that it is free so far.
So, why use Twitter? Apart from politics, pizza and marketing, what else can you use it for? Is it all pointless babble? It can be, if that is what floats your pooh-stick. At the moment, I am using it to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN). By using hash tags, not only can I get a stream of consciousness from @darraghdoyle about #spf13, I can also follow experts at #aslib conferences, #irelibchat or #edchatie to stay abreast of developments in the areas that I am interested in. I also use it to search and store information through the use of favourites. It gives me a global and local perspective on issues. I needed to research the Maker Space movement recently and I could follow as a group of coders used Twitter to get going in Meath while they spoke to their counterparts around the country. I can get instant feedback, instant news and most importantly, be part of the conversation. For example, I got connected to the wonderful @HurdyGurdyRadio who sent me some fantastic links to podcasts and from following their conversations I picked up on the LIS netvibes resource and @mishdalton, the Irish library mover/shaker and Twitter power user. In a sense, it is crowd sourced curated information and I like the synchronicity that can come with that rather than googlebots assigning relevance to content.
As for linking Facebook with Twitter at work, I decided not to in the end. They are two different platforms and involve different styles of conversation. A Facebook page is kind of like a shop owner standing at the door of their shop talking to you about the weather or the latest news. Twitter is more like a bunch of people talking between themselves. They might be talking about the shop, but chances are they are talking about something completely different, and this where Twitter throws up some gems. My favourite so far was the astronaut tweeting from space who was replied to by William Shatner, Mr Spock and Buzz Aldrin.
What interesting ways have you noticed Twitter being used?