I've been a fairly casual user of Twitter for a while now and it has been interesting to watch how it has become more commonly used. I signed up to use it fairly quickly after it's launch, but since no one else I knew was using it I figured it was a kind of geek-fad thing and forgot about it. Then I noticed more and more of my colleagues using it so I started paying attention to it again, and it's become a pretty easy way for me to track what some of the smartest people I know are doing.
For the most part, though, most people I know have not a clue what Twitter is or what it does. The news gods have provided a really memorable example of what it is with this story about a passenger on the plane that slid off the runway in Denver and broke into flames over this past weekend. The article claimed that the passenger, a guy named Mike Wilson, literally got off a Tweet (a message sent via Twitter) before he got out to safety but when I checked his Twitter profile I read a Tweet he'd sent saying that he didn't send the first message until after he was safely off the plane. He then kept people posted on the post-crash happenings by sending Tweets about how the passengers were being handled. Note that he was not pleased that the airline wasn't providing them with drinks.
So here's how the passenger did it:
- At some point he joined Twitter (it's free).
- He started sending text messages to his Twitter account and the messages are displayed in his Twitter profile.
- Other people elected to follow him, so whenever he sends a text message they see it in their profile. To make it easy think of the profile as the equivalent of an email inbox.
- When the plane crashed and he sent out that text message to his Twitter account all the people who followed him saw the note. Then of course they could forward it, email about it, tell friends, etc.
Mr. Wilson has received lots of attention for his "tweeting" but when you think about it if he'd simply sent a text to his wife or kids the whole thing would have gone unnoticed. By sending the text to his Twitter profile where the dozens or hundreds of his followers could read it he did something new and novel and so he ended up being interviewed by the media. But beyond the novelty there also lies the network effect: by sending the message to a profile that is essentially a mini-blog or mini-webpage he allowed literally anyone to see what was happening, so those people that did follow him could send a link to his profile to whomever they wanted, and those people could forward it, and so on. Next thing you know there are literally thousands of people reading his text dispatches; if he'd sent that same 10-word text to his wife maybe ten people would have seen it. There, in a nutshell, is the powerful effect of Twitter. (BTW, he has 1,762 followers at 5:22 Eastern on December 22, 2008. I wonder how many he had before the crash.)
So if you have people that are interested in keeping up with you during the day, are regular users of text messaging, and are not averse to mutilations of the English language then you may have the makings for an active Twitter existence.
FYI, if you'd like to follow me on Twitter my profile is jlowder.