I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with the latest social networking site, Twitter.
Falling somewhere in the continuum between early adopter and Luddite as it relates to technology, I’ve embraced Facebook pretty enthusiastically, as noted in previous blog entries. And now I’ve started a Twitter account, but I’ve had a little more difficult time trying to figure out exactly how it can be useful to me.
Descriptions of Twitter that I’ve seen call it a “microblogging” site, where you can post updates called “tweets,” ostensibly in answer to the question: “What are you doing right now?” It’s supposed to be similiar to the Facebook “status update,” but I’m finding most people don’t use it that way. Whatever you put there, it has to be brief, as you have a limit of 140 characters.
The application allows you to follow other people’s Twitter updates and to be followed by others. So far I’m more of a follower than a followee. And I’m using it actually as a pretty neat professional newswire, as most of the Twitter pages I’m following have to do with journalism and public relations. I also get constant news updates from American, English and German media sites that have a Twitter feed. (I don’t have a lot of pretensions, but please allow me this one. When I get an update from Der Speigel or Deutsche Welle, I really do know what it’s saying. Really.) And my updates so far have pretty much been invitations to read my updated blog.
Similarly to Facebook, you can converse publicly with other people, but I haven’t tried that yet. But I just figured out how to send a “tweet” to my page from my cell phone. I enjoyed playing around with that technology at several athletic events at Wingate yesterday, sending the scores of our baseball and basketball games to my page. Later, it occurred to me that my messages probably weren’t targeted to an audience that was interested in our athletic events. It reminded me of my early days on the Internet, where I could access all this neat information, but couldn’t figure out how to use it.
My early impression is that Twitter is a little more of a “wild frontier” than Facebook, where you seem to have a little more control over who can see your information. I get some pretty random folks signing on to follow my updates (a Charlotte area dodgeball organization decided they were interested in me for some reason), but they seem pretty harmless so usually I don’t block them.
But issues related to the transparency of the communication have already arisen on Twitter, just as they have on other social networking sites and online communication. Here is a link to a story which I found with the help of my Twitter feed, about a journalist who ended up having to apologize for a profanity-laced outburst in a Twittering conversation with a source that went public.
(Advisory: You have to click through to a couple of links to get to a “capture” of this actual exchange. If you’re offended by strong language you may be satisfied just to read the commentary about it.)
It’s a good lesson in the importance of being nice online. This stuff not only spreads quickly, it also hangs around — even if you think you’ve deleted it.
The anonymity offered by the Internet encourages too much boorish behavior these days, promoting verbal exchanges that you wouldn’t think of engaging in face-to-face with someone. I weep for the future of humanity whenever I see the reader comments at the bottom of a news story or a YouTube video. Incivility combined with bad information and worse grammar is not an attractive package.
But that’s another post for another day. For now, I’ll take any suggestions anyone has on how to deal with Twitter. I’ll follow you, if you’ll follow me.