seems like there's a new, faster way to communicate introduced every few weeks.
But if you've ever been embarrassed by your cell phone ringing at exactly the
wrong moment, or frustrated by a perpetually overflowing email inbox, you've
doubtless wondered if being constantly connected is such a good thing. For
those suffering from information overload, reporter Mike Osborne has good news:
a communications tool you can choose to ignore without feeling the least bit
Have you ever tried NOT answering a ringing phone? It's nearly impossible to
do. E-mail's much the same. You feel compelled to answer every message, no
matter how trivial. That brings us to Twitter. One of the best things about
this latest entry in the communications sweepstakes is that it doesn't insist
on your complete attention.
technical name for services like Twitter is micro-blogging. Subscribers type in
short messages on their cell phones or computers, and these 'tweets' are
distributed instantly to their circle of friends. Those friends, or followers
in Twitter-speak, can respond immediately, save the post for later, or ignore
it all together.
Computer programmer and Twitter enthusiast Bryan Booth uses the service several
times a day. "Anytime I send out a tweet," he says, "of the 200
people or so who follow me, maybe only one of them sees it. Maybe all 200 do.
It depends on if they're on line; if they're paying attention."
combines the community of social networking, the portability of cell phones,
and the immediacy of instant messaging. Booth says if his followers read his
post, it might start a conversation. "But it doesn't demand the same kind
of attention that other forms of communications do."
your point in 140 characters or less
Educational instruction designer Mary Nunaley is tweeting at the tennis court
as she watches her son practice. Nunaley can send and receive tweets on her
cell phone because Twitter posts are blessedly short. Tweets are limited to 140
characters each. That's what Nunaley likes about it. "It really forces you
to think clearly about what you want to say and how you're going to get that
across to people. One hundred forty characters, if you think about it, is about
a sentence, and so you really need to be precise."
turns social networking on its head. With services like Facebook, people invite
you to be part of their circle of friends. With Twitter you choose the
people you want to follow.
says a simple keyword or name search is all it takes to locate topics or people
of interest. "The key thing is finding people on Twitter that you want to
follow. Then," she explains, "if you follow them, you'll go to their
Twitter page, click on the follow button, and then whenever they post something
you'll see what they're posting about."
dangers of Tweeting
But being able to read and write posts anywhere, anytime, can cause problems.
Nunaley recently used her cell phone to tweet candid – and negative – comments
about a convention speaker while sitting in the audience. Word of those posts
got back to her boss in Nashville before the speaker's presentation was even
finished. "We got calls in Nashville from Minnesota and one of the Dakotas
about how bad the conference was going based on things I had posted," she
says with a laugh. "So the next day at the conference we had a little
lecture about proper Twitter behavior during conferences."
behavior has a lot of companies paying close attention as well. When Nunaley
started tweeting about the trouble she was having with her cable service, a
company representative contacted her within minutes and quickly resolved the
problem. Cisco Systems, Dell and a number of other large companies have
recently jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, not just to connect with customers,
but also to promote professional collaboration.
programmer Bryan Booth uses Twitter primarily for business, tapping into an
online community of fellow techies for mutual support. "A lot of
programmers use it to find other programmers, so that when you're knocking your
head against your desk wondering why something isn't working you have somebody
who can keep you sane by saying, 'Here, let me take a look… be happy to
growth and growing pains
ability to network people with common interests, without any sense of
obligation or pressure, has propelled the service well beyond American shores.
Booth notes that Twitter is very popular in Japan. "Japan, I think, has
the largest number of subscribers of any country. It's also huge in Italy,
Portugal, Russia… I think America's actually fifth in terms of
That kind of growth doesn't come without cost, however. Complaints by Twitter
users have also grown in recent months, due to slow service and frequent
outages. Of course, Twitter is free, so perhaps it's in bad taste to complain.
spite of the service's shortcomings, Bryan Booth admits he's just a little bit
addicted. "There's a little bit of escapism in it. A lot of the people
that I follow are just funny. Their tweets never make sense. They're never
about anything. It's just to make people laugh. It's just a nice stress
imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Twitter is doing
remarkably well. By some estimates there are now more than 100 similar services
available worldwide. Some of the best known have equally inventive names:
Pownce, Spoink, Plurk and Thumblog, just to name a few.