“What are you up to?”
It’s how we greet friends and strangers alike everyday. It’s also the question behind one of the web’s most popular social networking sites: Twitter. Voices of the Past posts links to its news, along with other community announcements, at www.twitter.com/heritagevoices. So what is microblogging, and what can you gain from it?
Microblogging, a term that refers to the plethora of micro-blog posts on the sites of services such as Twitter, and Tumblr, lets users update their friends (or followers as Twitter calls them) about what’s going on right now. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be looking at the basic ideas behind microblogging with Twitter. Yes, the first time I heard about it I too wondered who in the world would spend their time on something like this.
Lots of folks, evidently. According to the measurement website Tweetrush, about 2 million “tweets” (a.k.a. posts) are released into cyberspace each day. And in a time when most companies are going to the government for the funds to stay afloat, venture capitalists gave Twitter $35 million it didn’t even necessarily need.
It turns out that most people like the freedom of expression that blogging promises, but aren’t crazy about the commitment. While some of us may enjoy the process of researching and crafting a blog post to stand the test of time, others just want to share their admiration of meal well done or vent their complain about unsatisfactory service. The sentiment is short, sweet and instantly out there for millions to see.
Ease of use is where much of Twitter’s popularity lies. There is no logging into an administrative panel to create headlines, tags and the other components of a blog post. And the interface is immaculate, unlike the chaos of Facebook or MySpace. Type in the homepage box and press send. That’s it. Dozens of Twitter update applications have been built for quick updating via desktop applications and smartphones as well.
More than 250,000 Obama followers on Twitter aided in his presidential victory through spontaneous meet-ups and fundraisers announced through the service. In February 2009, “Twestival” was celebrated for the first time in more than 180 cities all over the world. Twestival essentially began with groups of Twitter users rallying together to support the cause of clean water in developing countries. Hundreds of gatherings were held to raise money for public works projects.
Twitter can be used on a personal level for project management, conference meeting communications, to-do lists, notetaking, job networking, flash focus groups, and getting all the family together at the same time for dinner. It can also be used to aggregate news in an easily accessible way.
But Twitter is merely the delivery platform. It’s up to the users of the service to determine what the conversation is about. Groups who are on archeological surveys can use these services to update their friends and colleagues about their findings almost immediately after the fact through the use of cellphone integration that many microblogging services offer. These services can allow almost real-time communication: something that is virtually unheard of within the preservation field.
After Twitter, a flurry of microblogging services were hatched only to go the way of the dodo. Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, Brightkite were among the players I remember best from the early days. Today, Twitter commands much of the action, though you can find the current microblogging services reviewed in this post.
To me, “lists” are the functionality that make Twitter worthwhile. It takes the firehose of information and contextualizes it. These lists take a while to build, but are worth it. If you are looking for content to get started consuming information on Twitter, here are my curated lists of folks in digital heritage. You can follow these lists with your account or use them to build your own lists. My list “Heritage Influencers” is embedded below with the latest tweets from that group.