In the last few months, I’ve become a heavy user of Twitter, and I thought I’d share my experiences of it for anyone who’s curious. I’m by no means setting myself up here as a Social Media Guru, like this humble person here. Think of me more like a Victorian traveler, come back to the mahogany-paneled rooms of the Geographic Society to regale others with stories of his travels in the Kalahari.
So, for this entry, I’ll start with the basic question of “Twitter: good God, y’all, what is it good for?” I’d been using Facebook and LinkedIn for years now, but while I’d heard that Twitter was supposedly useful, I just couldn’t see why. Well, now I think I do:
You can meet way more new people through Twitter than through other social networking sites.
I don’t know about you, but all (or nearly all) of the people I’ve connected with on Facebook and LinkedIn are people I know In Real Life. Occasionally, someone comes along that I don’t know and whose friend request I’ll accept — but it’s always because they have some connection with someone I do know In Real Life.
The apps themselves seem to encourage this. LinkedIn makes you say how you know the person when you request to be their friend. Facebook doesn’t go that far, but the fact that just about everyone uses their real name on Facebook (and on LinkedIn) disposes you to be circumspect about who you friend.
Twitter, by contrast, doesn’t forbid people from being anonymous. Moreover, just about every message you can post or send on Twitter is publicly accessible to everyone. So, the upshot is, you can “listen in” on conversations if you want to, and even chime in, if you’re so inclined. Heck, there doesn’t even have to be a conversation in the first place for you to tweet a message at someone. And so “friending” (or “following”, rather) is a lot easier and more casual.
So the skeptic’s question might then become: why would you ever want to “meet” (the skeptic would use air-quotes here) people that you’ll never see In Real Life?
Well, that’s a question that applies not just to Twitter, but to all the socializing that happens on the Web, pre- and post-Twitter. And there will be a lot of different answers to that question, depending on people’s goals and preferences.
For myself, Twitter has been a great way to spread the word about The Consensus Bureau beyond just the people I’ve met In Real Life. That said, I’ve also met a lot of interesting people who are worth knowing, period; and I also find out about news events and cool articles a lot faster through their tweets than I ever did through the posts people make on Facebook, LinkedIn, or LiveJournal.
That in itself could be someone’s main reason for using Twitter: not to use it to make friends, but simply to get a steady stream of news, since all the major newspapers, journalists, and bloggers have a Twitter account. I doubt there’s another system out there that has such a steady stream of (links to) breaking news articles.
But if, at this point, Grampa’s still skeptical about that Twitter thing, tell him to go back to watching his “Wheel of Fortune”.