The State of Twitter
August 2, 2009 at 7:03 pm #77054
From the Philadelphia Inquirer
Tweeting twitter seriously
It’s now used to organize protests, disseminate news.
By John Timpane
Inquirer Staff Writer
To many, Twitter is something to make fun of. Little messages – called tweets – shoot to and fro from airhead to airhead, frothy and negligible. Superficial, narcissistic skating. Just another time-waster in a media world voracious of time.
But the last year has brought an explosion in user traffic – monthly minutes of use grew 37-fold from April 2008 through May 2009 – and a growing role in disseminating news and organizing social and protest movements, from the streets of Tehran to a swimming pool in Huntingdon Valley.
True, only 40 percent of first-timers become habitual visitors – the rest are “Twitter quitters.” And nobody seems to know how to make money with it – yet. When Twitter cofounder Biz Stone appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report in April, Stephen Colbert quipped, “I assume that ‘Biz’ in Biz Stone does not stand for ‘business model.’ ”
Still, recent events suggest that Twitter has gone from laughable to respectable.
“This could be a moment when more people see they should take Twitter more seriously,” says Dan Frommer, senior editor of Silicon Alley Insider, “that it can play an important role in major events, that when something big happens and you need to message the public instantly, Twitter lets you do that.”
A social-networking service, Twitter allows users to post short (140 characters max) tweets on what they’re doing, thinking, eating, etc. It’s not exactly “on the Web” – more than three-quarters of Twitter’s traffic comes across BlackBerrys, iPods, and other devices, according to twitstat.com. In theory, Twitter can come in handy whenever you need to speed a short message to the world. And a lot of people are finding that irresistible.
Like former Alaska Gov. and GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who tweeted on July 21: “Riding 2 Kenai;writing last Govs speech on way;country music streaming & countryside screaming inspiration 4 pro-developmnt + pro-enviro msg.”
And SenArlenSpecter: “will vote to confirm Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, and urge colleagues to do the same”.
Between 18 million and 20 million people are now dedicated Twitter users in the United States, with more than 32 million worldwide, according to comScore, a tracking service. In April and May, Twitter saw more unique visitors than the sites of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.
But it’s Twitter’s role in international politics that has drawn the most attention of late. In the Middle East from Dubai to Egypt to Syria, Twitter-inspired protests have embarrassed governments and inspired crackdowns.
In early June, fearing unrest for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, the Chinese government blocked Twitter and other networking sites. Many Twitterers found end-arounds, but the very attempt at blockade suggests Twitter is a totalitarian’s nightmare: a people’s self-broadcaster, open to the world.
More recently, when Twitter-leaked photos of bloody riots from Xinjiang province began to appear on the Web, China’s government again tried to muffle Twitter. But that’s hard to do. Twitterers are using “piggyback” programs such as iTweet.net, which let you use Twitter without actually going to its Web site.
A “Twitter revolution” was declared during the recent elections in Iran, when Iranians used it to track the results and their aftermath. Tweeters such as Persiankiwi – who wrote, “NOTE to HACKERS. . . pls try to hack all iran gov wesites. very difficult for us” – and IranRiggedElect posted updates, coordinated flash mobs (spontaneous gatherings organized via networking media), and directed attention to protest videos they posted on YouTube.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate, used Twitter to marshal and solidify support. Authorities slowly realized Twitter was a back channel for alternative info, and they tried to block it. Tweeters appealed abroad for “proxy servers,” which let them reach the Web anonymously and keep channels open. In fact, when Twitter wanted an hour of downtime on June 16, the U.S. State Department asked it and similar sites to stay up so Iranians could communicate.
Craig Stoltz, proprietor of the Web site Web 2.0 Really? and a Web consultant, thinks Twitter’s role in the Iranian elections “might change some minds . . . it could solidify its potential to contribute to serious public events.”
Twitter power also emerged during the Michael Jackson story. On June 25, Twitter users were broadcasting news of the pop star’s passing well before mainstream media could confirm it. So many posted Jackson messages – more than 100,000 an hour at the height – that Twitter stopped dead in its tweets.
It happened again on July 6, when millions shared impressions of the Jackson memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. For a while that night, Twitter ran its fetching graphic of the famous “Fail Whale,” a happy Moby-Dick borne aloft by tweeting birdies, with an apology and a “try again later.”
Twitter also is taking hold as a global round table for chorus, churn, chatter, and debate. Traffic spiked, for example, over South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair and the killing of football star Steve McNair. When two subway trains collided in Washington on June 23, Twitter users sent screen-captures of TV news reports throughout the Web.
The service has proved to be just as potent in broadcasting local events. The best-known example is still US Airways Flight 1549’s Hudson River landing on Jan. 15. Within 20 minutes, Janis Krums not only sent a tweet – “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.” – but also took a picture on his iPhone and posted it to Twitter, and thence to the world, one of the first photos available of the rescue.
When the Valley Swim Club of Huntingdon Valley rescinded the membership of a day camp whose children, mostly African American and Hispanic, reported hearing racial remarks on a Jun 29 visit to the pool, that story, and outrage, spread like wildfire, thanks in part to the tweeting of Carmen Dixon, proprietor of a Web site named All About Race. And Twitter played a role in organizing a protest July 9.
Many towns and local groups have discovered that Twitter is good for more than shouting “Emergency!” From hospitals to sewing circles, local institutions are using Twitter as community glue. Police and fire departments use Twitter as a combination scanner and blotter, keeping citizens informed of pursuits, road closures, and suspect descriptions. The Philadelphia Police Department got started last month. A recent tweet is very practical: “Philadelphia Police Tipline. Any Tip. Any Time. (215) 686-TIPS.”
The Inquirer and many other media outlets, as well as most sports teams, are on Twitter, as are city government (address: twitter.com/PhiladelphiaGov), the zoo, weather, and employment sites (but not yet the Fire Department), as well as nonprofits, churches, social-service organizations, and clubs.
To be sure, there are questions about whether Twitter can sustain such growth – or whether it’ll prove to be just another Internet fad. According to Nielsen Co., about 40 percent of first-time visitors continue to use the site. But growth is slowing: From April to June, it was up only 7 percent, Nielsen says.
And can it make money? News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch told TheStreet.com that Twitter “is an amazing phenomenon but I have no idea how they can monetize it.” On its own since 2006, Twitter Inc. is thought to be close to using up the cash on hand. Its founders have been tight-lipped about profit schemes; recently leaked documents allude to vague – and to some in the business world, disappointing – plans for turning all this traffic into cash.
Still, if Twitter keeps adding about 10 million new users a month, it could have 50 million before long. According to Alexa.com, a Web-traffic service, Twitter ranks as the 13th most-visited site in the United States, just behind AOL and just ahead of Amazon.com, and is 15th worldwide.
Whether they use it as world mini-blog or global round table, Twitter users are showing the power of a quick-hit network in which millions can send info to millions of others in seconds, no matter where they are. Twitter may have a silly name, but it may just have grown up.
August 2, 2009 at 7:15 pm #77056
from the comments of the above article
http://www.blogger.com/profile/15624640062686409332” target=”_blank”>Blogger’s BIO
How I am learning to love Twitter, despite the hype
There is nothing quite as pointess, nor pointless in quite the same way, as forming an opinion about something before you have experienced it.
I am a widely experienced person, and I have earned a living my entire adult life as a journalist, reporting on my experiences and the experiences of others.
I also go through life reflexively asking people who tell me things, “What’s your evidence?” or “how do you know that?”, always trying to get past the crust of opinion to the kernel of experience.
And yet, I am humbled to confess, I still am capable of doing this stupid, uniqueless pointless thing: I still at times form opinions of things, and even express those opinions, without adequate experience of the subject – almost invariably, when the thing in question is trendy and comes packaged with the degree of advance hype that usually accompanies fraud.
That is the only point in my favor, that I am relying on experience when I do this – namely, the experience of finding hype wrapped around fraud, as it so often is. But still, really, it is uniquely pointless to think you have an opinion about anything, even something that is hyped, when you have not experienced this thing for yourself.
Take Twitter, for example – a subject of almost universal hype at this very moment, a moment which may last as long as twenty status updates, before the next social media platform of the moment comes along and usurps it.
See how I do that? Already I am backing into snark and condescension, even when I am trying to say that, now that I actually have experienced Twitter – for 32 of my own updates, and for six days – I see all sorts of value in it.
Unforeseen value – certainly, unforeseen by me; and largely, judging by the patter I have heard and read about Twitter, undiscovered value – or at least those who have discovered this value are not the ones talking about Twitter in the tsunami of its hype.
I have discovered that, for me – a guy who has been on media lists for half his life, and who depends upon news reports and press releases to earn a living – Twitter is an exceptionally efficient and satisfying way to follow the news, particularly before it becomes “the news” by being reported by someone else in my trade.
In fact, Twitter provides a model that is better than the traditional media model for receiving press releases and news reports. In the old world, the old way, they basically find you (the journalist) and promote you to death, quite often regardless of how many times you asked them to leave you alone.
With Twitter, you go out and pick the people you want to talk to you, and if you don’t like what you are getting, or if you get more than you had bargained for, you can drop them as easily as you picked them up.
As a journalist who has asked countless publicists to always put in the subject line of the email a description of the precise subject of their email (novel idea, isn’t it?), I learned to love, right away, Twitter’s brevity. No prefacing every damn notice with boilerplate – PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – you got 140 characters to make your pitch. Make it good. Make it matter.
I also love the egalitarian nature of it all. I have had the experience of being a media darling; I have written features for The New York Times, reviewed books for The Washington Post, edited a travel section of a magazine with the enormous reach of 1.1 million readers. I know what it’s like to get the A-list treatment from media sources – and it can make the job much easier.
But that isn’t really who I am or how I roll, in my essence. I am basically a self-taught journalist who fell into the trade as an accident and found, as a working musician, it was a way to pay the bills – an infinitely more reliable way to pay the bills than playing music was!
As such, I have always believed that journalism, like poetry or bread, is for everyone. Twitter recognizes this fact, or at least enables it along with every other kind of use of information.
I have signed up for Twitter alerts (not sure I can get all the way over to using that weird little “tweets”) from … looking at my lastest updates, here … The American Journal of Nursing, Yale University Press, Pew Research Center, U.S. Sen. Caire McCaskill, the F.B.I. … and though in fact I do edit an impactful newspaper and do contribute to any number of other impactful publications, most of these people sending me information on Twitter don’t know that or don’t care.
I could be a gay teen in North Dakota who knows there is a bigger world out there somewhere and wants to listen into it, or a homeless woman using a computer at the public library, or what I actually am, a mid-career journalist for an impactful publication who has interviewed Barack Obama and gotten some good people noticed and some bad people fired. The information is there and it is freely available, for all of us. I like that. I love it.
It’s funny, because I know so many print journalists of a certain age (I am 42) who continue to resist Twitter, as I resisted Twitter, and who have no idea that, if used in a certain way, it does nothing but make their job easier. It also gives us a lot more competition, sure, but that citizen journalist horse has left the barn and it ain’t coming back.
Let’s face it. There is no information priesthood anymore, no more robed monks dispensing the news to the masses in a language they can’t access for themselves. Now the news, like the world itself, is an open book, available in all languages, to all people, at all times. It’s piling up in my Twitter account right now, and I can’t wait to go back and see what I’ve been missing.
Want to see how far I have come on this subject? Then read my opinion about Twitter before I had any experience of it, Chris is comparing Twitter to a faded old Polaroid, http://confluencecity.blogspot.com/2009/02/chris-is-comparing-twitter-to-faded-old.html in which I reduce this polyvalent information system to only one of its uses, the self-absorbed status update. At least I am glad I thought to add this caveat:
I won’t rule out Twitter, though. I got over my aversion to cell phones, email, MySpace and FaceBook, so I wouldn’t put anything past me.
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