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The Misconceptions and Use Cases of Twitter – Part 1: Introduction

twitter-logo If you’re not already familiar with twitter, then you’re currently missing out on one of the ‘newest’ (although Twitter is past it’s second birthday) social utility/networking websites sweeping the web.

To get a glimpse of the basic concept of twitter take a look at this video introduction from Common Craft:

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With the premise of ‘What are you doing?‘  twitter users can post any open-ended message, thought, url/link, question, etc as long as it fits into the space of 140 characters (text letters).  Aside from ‘tweeting’ your own messages, you can ‘follow’ or subscribe to view the messages of others. Now, this doesn’t seem that powerful, does it? Well, it is and hopefully this will be apparent if you’re able to make it through the self-conversation that follows.

Aviary twitter-com Picture 1The problem with the video above and the basic premise of ‘What are you doing?‘ is that it causes a lot of misconceptions about the uses of twitter.

If you’re a twitter user and you talk to someone who isn’t, you’ll often get responses such as: “So you just let people know what you’re doing 24/7? Isn’t that somewhat creepy – if not stalkerish?” The quick answer would be “Sometimes.” While there are occurrences of people tweeting day and night about what they eat and where they’re sitting, the majority of people have something more substantive and interesting to say, and a smaller minority are using twitter for it’s unique and true ‘power’ – realizing there’s more than meets the eye.

Aviary twitter-com Picture 2On the most basic of levels, Twitter is the heartbeat of the web and often the world. Unique to Twitter is it’s ‘trending topics’ that show the most talked about unfiltered phrases or words circulating right now in real-time (no delay) across the web. This means if something important (or not so much) is happening or a major event occurs that affects a huge crowd and likely yourself, you’ll see it on twitter before anywhere else. Since trending topics are unfiltered, non-censored, and carry no agenda the most raw and current events display themselves.

To give an example, Michael Jackson died on June 25 and before the news networks and newspapers could announce the news, twitter was erupting in a Michael Jackson panic of speculation and hospitalization announcements. Twitter users broke the news to the majority before the media could, which is an enormous feat considering the power of today’s media outlets.

For most of us though, knowing what’s happening on a global scale might be interesting, but it’s not dire or interesting enough to sign-up for another site we’ll barely visit and less-often use. Going along with the misconception, if Twitter was only about answering ‘What are you doing’ would it be so bad? If you could know that your favorite band just booked a tour to your city,  your favorite author just finished their newest book and is giving away free copies, or the hero you never thought you’d meet could reply to something you wrote, would you want the opportunity? If you could ask a question and get hundreds of replies instantly, would that be beneficial? Could it potentially be educational?

The power of Twitter lies not just in what people are saying, but who is saying it. If I, an illiterate cook,  tweet “I ate the best cheesecake of my life at Mario’s Bakery” it’ll probably go unnoticed. If  Padma Lakshmi or Tom Colicchio of Top Chef tweet the same thing, it carries a new level of effectiveness – at least for those in the food industry, and I’m sure Mario’s Bakery wouldn’t mind. If you’ve ever wondered how something is accomplished or how to improve on an area in your life, all that’s needed is to follow an expert in your field of interest, and twitter gives people this opprotunity.

As an actionscript and flash developer, I follow the most influential flash developers on the web through twitter. The reason I do this is because they’re not tweeting what they ate for breakfast; they’re talking about the new things they’ve learned and sharing them. Grant Skinner has one of the most popular flash blog sites. By following him on twitter i’ve been able to vastly improve on my own techniques that he passes along – often things that never make it to blog articles on his website. By doing this for a number of various disciplines, I’ve vastly expanded my knowledgebase, am constantly seeing things I would never have known otherwise and the best part is that it requires no work or significant effort on my part.

Where else can you get free advice, insight, mentoring, or knowledge from some of the top officials, experts, entrepreneurs, leaders in the world? Typically you would pay hundreds of $$$/hr to step in the same room as some of the people you can follow for free on twitter, and often times they’re more than kind enough to reply to questions through Twitter. How much would it be worth to know what your hero or idol reads or listens to on a daily basis?

These are only a fraction of a percentage of what makes Twitter both interesting and useful. Since the list is truly too large for a single post, i’ll save it for a Part 2 where there will be a more structured list of both the misconceptions and use cases of twitter.

If you’re still reading this, I consider you very patient. hah! If you have some use cases please leave them below as I’d like to dive deeper into the current and potential uses to the Twitter paradigm.

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  • Markoresko

    What about privacy?
    If anyone can see what I send to the world, I guess i should tend not to send private stuff, in order to protect my privacy form freaks that are everywhere.

    If I should not use it for private info with my friends,
    I might consider it as tool for Theme-oriented chatting,
    where every “channel” (unilike IRC) can “listen” to another and get only relevant info?

    Also, one more thing I never used it till now is:
    It twitter owned by only one company?
    If Only one company controls servers, infrastructure, control mechanics of news,
    could it, just as easy as receiving messages, do some “censorship” in time of needs?
    What law does twitter needs to serve?

    I see that there is no: Privacy, Company-independent service, platform-neutral service, public standard for service and even promise that service as it is would continue to be available as it is.

    If twitter should be a network, it should have a standard implementation,
    independed implementations that you could put on your private server, etc,
    and not controlled as network from one identity, company, country of justice system.
    If it is not all of that.. why bother? Marketing? Ah well, thats great marketing tool as I see.

  • Great comments Markoresko!

    In terms of twitter, you can make your own profile private and then only your followers that you approve can read your tweets. There are also ‘direct-messages’ that you can send to people privately which are similar to private messages on other websites.

    There’s a general unwritten rule of thumb that you shouldn’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want to be public knowledge. Most people don’t understand this. Today, e-mails can be hacked and ‘private’ data can be made public and therefore it’s important that not just on twitter, but anywhere online that private information/thoughts/pictures aren’t posted unless you’re ok with them being available for the public to see.

    In my opinion, the power of twitter doesn’t lie in sharing information with friends. It really lies in the learning from those in a position that you value.

    Twitter is owned by a single company. If you’re curious about it’s infrastructure and terms, it’s important to read over the terms of service on the twitter website.

    Twitter does have a standard API that developers can use to put various tweets and twitter data on their own websites. Currently, there are hundreds of companies that use the twitter API and more people use twitter API based software that isn’t affiliated with the company than there are people that actually go to twitter.com. Tweetdeck is an example of this http://www.tweetdeck.com/

  • i always update my Twitter and i love to twitter my daily activities to my friends and loved ones. i also maintain a personal blog for entries which requires more detail.

  • name

    Could you link to part 2?

    • Hi, unfortunately I never ended up writing a second part.