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The Mysterious World of Twitter

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

I used to think that Twitter was a way for people to stand in a virtual room and shout at each other simultaneously.

Jon Reid at Twitip, a site designed to help people get the most out of Twitter, has a more optimistic view: “This “cocktail party” of simultaneous talking is a near-perfect description of Twitter: just replace “talk” with “tweet.” It is what makes Twitter such a fascinating place, giving you the chance to meet interesting people you’ve never encountered before.”

So I wasn’t entirely wrong, as I discovered last week when, four years behind the trend, I joined Twitter. 

Twitter, according to Wik was conceived as a way for an SMS user to keep in contact with a small group. The idea grew from there and Twitter became a social network that grew from 20,000 tweets per day to 65 million.

“Twitter” and “tweet” have become household words- their origins, according to CEO Jack Dorsey were that “we came across the word "twitter," and it was just perfect. The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was.”

It seems you can’t come across a magazine, newspaper, blog, current affairs programme or radio show (reputable reputation or otherwise) who haven’t quoted someone from something they’ve twittered.

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show recently mocked Sarah Palin for her 140 character breakdown of the WikiLeaks dumps: “Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book “America by Heart” from being leaked, but US Govt can’t stop WikiLeaks’ treasonous act?”

 Host Jon Stewart conceded that she might have a good point, except for that fact that Sarah Palin’s book was already leaked, was probably still available on mirror sites on the internet, and as WikiLeaks was in Sweden and Julian Assange was Australian, she can’t accuse them of treason against America because they’re not. Actually. American.

Jon Stewart also took a jab at the likes of MSNBC, Fox News and CNN for deeming her tweets newsworthy.

On the other hand, the likes of Stephen Fry appears to be the Oprah of Twitter, influencing his two million-plus followers to buy books and music, support causes, and to spread information about the worlds of politics and well as giving handy advice to those travelling:  “Advice. Much better never ever to visit Bilbao than to travel on Vueling, who represent a new low in airline incompetence and stupidity.”

Celebrities are turning to Twitter to announce divorce proceedings, births, deaths, marriages and the weather: “!”-Katy Perry. Their opinions can sometimes spark controversy and debate- usually over a careless comment. (See Pink: “I can't believe people are mad because I don't think Sarah Palin should be in the rock n roll hall of fame.”)

Why did I join Twitter?

Aside from having a narcisstic personality coupled with a compulsive need to be liked (those Facebook quizzes are scarily accurate), I also wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

Twitter differs from Facebook in that while your circle of ‘friends’ may not increase, your  ‘followers’ certainly will.

This means that anyone with a Jesus complex will get a lot out of Twitter,  indeed “god” on Twitter has over 62,000 followers ("Satan" has 19,900 followers, tipping the scales to the side of good in the eternal battle once again.)  Other religious entities are jumping on the chance to up their conversion rate: the Dalai Lama tweets almost daily in 140 characters or less:“Awareness of impermanence and appreciation of our human potential will give us a sense of urgency that we must use every precious moment.” He has over a million followers, thus totally winning the Twitter conversion rate game.

Twitter will not only allow you to have followers, but also to follow others.

I followed a few people out of curiosity, which then turned into looking at their followers and following them- a downward spiral of surf-stalking, if you will.

I feel my best addition to my stalking, er, following list is John Campbell, who is pretty darn amusing “Wikipedia says Santa is a "legendary figure" who "is said" to bring gifts to people.”Is said"?!?!? Those bastards won't be getting a visit.”

People can also follow me, which means now, after a grand total of 4 tweets and 3 retweets (reposting to your profile the interesting tweets you see), I have a massive following of six people. Possibly four people, as two appear to be trying to sell me things.

The point of twitter if you’re a blogger according to Darren Rowse of Problogger is to “ improve the quality of my blogs, network with other bloggers, widen my readership, grow my profile and drive traffic to my blogs”.

This means that four people and two advertisements could turn into a level approaching Satan , by using the right tools.

There are a few quirks to using twitter, many of which I will never fully understand, however I have now come to terms with the @ tool- which, when you post a comment allows you to talk about another person so they know you’re talking about them: for example “Watched @Nathan Fillion on Castle today and now really really want to date him.”  On the off chance Nathan Fillion clicked on his @mentions page he could then read the tweet and decide he’d really really like to get a restraining order.

The hash tags tool is like a key word referencing a group or trend, for example,Rove's tweets over Christmas consisted of  tweets and then retweets with #badchristmasjokes: “RT What do you call a 3 legged donkey? A monkey (It was a typo - was meant to be "wonkey"). Fail. #badchristmasjokes”

 This means that you can then click on the link and find other twitterer’s references to the topic. Hashtags will let you search for these keywords and find all mentions of them on Twitter.

The tinyurl tool in people’s tweets had me for ages- it translates as tiny url, and means you can shorten any links you want to put in so you can efficiently use your 140 characters.  Url4t and Tinyurl  are free services which will shorten links for you without any mental arithmetic required. 

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I want to get out of Twitter, besides Katy Perry’s weather updates and the Dalai Lama’s insights...but when I figure it out, I’ll be sure to give you a tweet.

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