Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Phenomenon of Twitter

When I first noticed the presence of Twitter on the web, it was via an interest I had in a particular blog - the author added "follow me on Twitter", and out of curiosity I clicked on the link, read her profile and the few postings displayed at the time. My immediate thought was "what rubbish, it will never catch on" and immediately forgot all about it!

BUT.... there are already believed to be around 12 million Twitters at the time of writing, and I am one of them - now an incurable addict!

So What is Twitter and How Does it Work?

At its simplest, Twitter allows users to do two things: post short messages about what they are doing, and to read other users' updates. It's easy to set up a Twitter account and it's free. It's best to use your real name so people you know can find you easily.

Accounts can be made private so only friends the user has authorised can see them - this is a great way to collaborate with colleagues on a project and keep in touch in a more immediate way than by, say email. Links can be included to documents and/or project workspaces. You can also choose to go public so you can be found and generate a list of followers you don't know as well as those that you do.

If you find friends on the service then you can choose to follow them and you will be shown their updates as they happen. When someone decides to follow you, an email is sent to the address you registered to let you know. Users can block people if they don't want them as a follower.

Like most social networking sites, the settings page lets users customise the look of the profile page by changing the background picture or adding a photo.

For users of Twitter one of the most appealing features is the range of ways updates can be posted and received. Updates can be posted from a mobile phone and Twitter users can sign up to receive updates from people they are following via RSS feeds, social networking sites such as Facebook and various widget applications, such as Twidget.

Despite the musings often being completely insignificant, and sometimes even banal, Twitter has been credited by some as providing an essential tool in breaking news. It is argued that Twitter has allowed journalists to pick up on stories they have have had to wait for on the news wires. The site was credited with being the first to break the news about the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York, after a passenger on a nearby ferry posted a picture.

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