Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Twitter!

I'll be the first to admit that I struggled with Twitter. I am a person that picks picks picks apart a technology until I feel that I understand, if not it's buttons and icons and features and hidden tools, then at least - at the very least - it's purpose. What is affordance? How will it help us learn, think, connect, serve, become, undertand, share, create, facilitate? What does it DO?

Twitter was released three years ago today as a 140 character (or less) micro-blogging site. At least that's what others said. Twitter simply said "Tell us what you're doing right now." So, people shared Zen-like bits of minutia. This threw off my hunt for meaning. Micro-blogging would be sharing your ideas, positions, passions in 140 characters or less. It's not having your readers stroll through endless posts on what you're watching, eating, seeing out the window. And yet, that's how people were using Twitter. Because Twitter asked "What are you doing?"

Now, people stay in touch - with friends, colleagues, heroes, wonderful characters, minor celebrities - at the most intimate of details regarding what they eat and do. In 140 characters or less. Maybe it creates community in the old, lost neighborhood sense regarding knowing people on the level of the mundane.

Still, the people who claimed it was a micro-blogging venue are correct, too. Depending who you follow, you find rich posts, deep linking, breaking news. If you're one of the 'need to be plugged in' addicts, Twitter is a killer app. News by the second. Follow enough newsy tweets and your head spins faster than watching CNN ticker feeds while eating and reading the newspaper.

So I still don't know what Twitter's singular affordance might be, but using it to create streaming information across a 'mutual following' community is a great way to gather and share the fleeting, even though atemporal, moment. I think we may find multiple shared thought uses, for academic courses and community, if we think deeply over time. Meanwhile, let me know if you need ideas on how you might use Twitter to reach students, prospective studens, faculty ...or worse. (I'm thinking hashtags and search.twitter.com ?)

Happy birthday, Twitter. Wish I could invite all my lovely Twitter friends to your virtual birthday party!

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