What is the point of Twitter? This is a question i’ve heard asked quite a few times over the past month, most recently by one of my colleagues. ‘What is it for?’ he said, ‘What does it do?’ Like most people all he really knew was that each post to Twitter, or tweet, is restricted to a maximum of 140 characters. ‘What’s the point?’
The best answer i could give him is that Twitter is like a cross between a blog, instant messaging (IM) message service and bookmarking service, the balance between these three aspects depending on each user. To get a flavour of how differently Twitter can be used it may be useful to look at the extremes:
There are some users who stick to the original idea behind Twitter: they blog – or rather microblog – and they do nothing else. In particular, they don’t engage in chat with other users. To observe their timelines is to see a long line of statements radiating out into the universe. I’m reminded of radio broadcasts. Often these people tweet only intermittently and make little attempt to join their tweets together or provide context.
THE INSTANT MESSAGER
The timelines of the IM style users look like conversations. Most tweets are prefixed by the @ symbol which indicates a tweet directed to a specific person – although it can also be read by anyone else who follows both the sender and the addressee. Often the user will have lots of different chats going on at the same time.
In the timelines of those who use Twitter primarily as a bookmarking service we see a proliferation not of @ symbols, but of links. Some users focus on particular areas of interest while others are far more eclectic, but with all these users there’s a relative absence of personal statements. There are also often quite a few tweets prefixed with “RT”, which stands for “Re-Tweet”. This is a method of recommending and rebroadcasting other users’ tweets.
These are, as i indicated above, extremes. In reality few people use Twitter exclusively in one way – indeed it’s the variation which makes it such a vibrant social network.
And in case you still can’t see the attraction, here are four of my favourite tweets – perhaps they will convince you:
Rebeckyroberts: We washed the guinea pig today and then wrapped her in a white pillowcase. She looked like a furry faced baby Jesus.
Transguys: I watched two big bucks duke it out outside my bedroom window this evening. The doe continued her meal as she watched them fight for her.
BrianPike: Cat appeared this morning with a ’35p’ price ticket stuck to his bottom. Can’t help feeling he’s undervaluing himself.
Rebeckyroberts: Wilma has been delivered. She is a magnificent bone crushing bitch! She has a conveyor belt even, and farts out diesel fumes! I love her!