Twitter.com has become a central part of my online experience, as one can probably see by the focus on it on the sidebar. So, what makes it so special?
First, let’s define what the Twitter platform is.
Twitter = Length-constrained globally accessible Pseudo-IM that’s tribes-enabled and logged, featuring content-based networking tools. That’s a mouthful so let’s break it down
- Length-Constrained: Each posting on twitter can only be up to 140 characters long (including spaces, punctuation, etc)
- Pseudo-IM: Short bursts of conversational content. Thoughts, feelings, musings, inspiration, funny links, etc.
- Globally accessible: By default, anyone in the world can see any of your postings to the site. More importantly, anyone can respond to them and engage you directly.
- Tribes-enabled: My definition, based on Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin, is based around Twitter’s “follow” functionality, which allows any user to “follow” any other user, so that their updates appear in their incoming stream of content. Unlike Facebook or Myspace, you do not need to confirm someone in order for them to start receiving your content. As you build your tribe, you have several ways of interacting.
- You can post a message out into your ‘stream’ which anyone following you or searching can read
- You can direct a message at someone but still have it reside in your public feed by preceeding the message with an @username (e.g. “@jeremymeyers Your new blog post is awesome!”
- If you are following someone and they are also following you, you can send them a private message that only they can see.
- Logged: Public conversations are on twitter.com indefinitely, so they can be referenced in the future. In fact, the definition above came from something I posted on December 12th.
- Content-based networking tools: This is where it gets interesting. Twitter features a pretty robust search engine, allowing you to search not only for people, but for anything anyone has ever posted to the site. This makes finding interesting people saying remarkable things about topics you are interested in very simple. And since there’s no barrier to engagement, you can follow them and say hi immediately.
This may seem to some like a fancy way of pushing out Facebook updates, but as more and more interesting people join and start using the service a remarkable thing starts happening. The old barriers to being able to contact people fall away. Imagine this scenario: You’re a writer with a book almost completed and no contacts in the publishing industry. You go on twitter and notice that the VP of Editorial at Bantam has a twitter account. You can go and see what they’re thinking about, who they’re talking to, what’s interesting to them. Then you can engage them in authentic communication, build up a relationship, and before you know it you have a friend who can help you out.
Now imagine being able to do this with Rachel Maddow (@maddow). Or Adam Savage from Mythbusters (@donttrythis). Or potential Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta (@cnnhealth), or ?uestlove from The Roots, or the guys behind Threadless.com.
I think what I really love about twitter is its a great democratic equalizer. We’re all just people, and we’re there to make connections that allow us to give and receive value. Twitter makes it easy to find people who are into what you’re into, and want to have great conversations and debates and grow and learn. If you use it right, your life can be affected in any number of ways.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself using the site with any regularlity, I suggest using the free program TweetDeck as your interface into it. Its dashboard system makes keeping track of the various threads of conversation much easier than twitter.com’s own website.