I’ve been on the micro-blogging site Twitter for about year now, and I’ve avoided blogging about because it struck me as the dumbest thing ever. If you’re going to blog using only 140 characters at a time, why do you need a separate platform to do so? I still use it, I enjoy it, but there is no way I can justify its necessity to the real world. The Twitter people don’t seem to be making any money from what they do. Some people are benefiting from Twitter via new subscribers to their websites, but they have no way of sharing this success with Twitter even if they wanted to. The service crashes more times than it should, and frankly it sounds like the whole thing could collapse at any moment.
Yet somehow, Twitter.com keeps growing as a phenomenon. Twitter surpassed Digg.com on Obama’s inauguration day as one of the top social news sites on the internet. Here’s a visualization of Twitter.com’s usage during the inauguration. As the network gets bigger, it gets more interesting. And just like any other social situation, emergent and unwritten rules start popping up. If someone starts following you, it’s polite to follow them back. Consequently, following people is a great way to get people to follow you. Every time I start following people, maybe two people will start following me back. Half of them have “social media expert” or some variation thereof on their profile. I don’t know if their using a twitter robot program to pick me up or if they’re just obsessively following everyone in their friend of a friend of a friend’s twitter lists.
Twitter also has something called an API, which allows people to write programs that help you deal with your ever-expanding friendlist. Tweetdeck is a desktop application for windows that automatically loads new twitter posts (also called “tweets”) and allows you to divide twitter users into groups. You can use services like Tweelater.com to auto-follow your new followers, but personally I want to find something I can host from my own server before I give someone else a new username and password I can forget the next day. The Twitter app on facebook attaches your twitter account to your facebook account, and vice versa. I use Twitter Tools on my wordpress blog to make a new tweet when I have a new post, and the twitter widget posts my twitter feed on the sidebar.
Twitter is a blogging platform that is meant for people who want to be found. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that people want to protect their information from the internet. Celebrities seem to love it. You can follow Arnold Schwarzenegger, Britney Spears, and half the cast-members of Star Trek. Another funny thing about the platform is that it is not fundamentally different from wordpress, facebook, or any other blogging platform. There is no Twitter equation that anyone can patent. A few standards of usage are changed and voilà, you have the next social media phenomenon. I still think that Twitter is weird, its success is weird, and that is precisely why I’m going to keep experimenting with it and see where it takes me.