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What is Twitter?


So What is Twitter?

Often in a conversation I will casually mention that I heard, or said “on Twitter…” some particular piece of news or information. Then whomever I’m talking to would would glaze over and not have any idea of what I’m talking about or they may ask “what’s that?”

The funny thing is that is actually a very difficult question to answer. It’s said in official circles that Twitter is a micro blogging service, but frankly I have no idea what that means.

So before I go any further lets outline what we do know.

  • Twitter is like SMS in that you’re restricted to 140 characters within any one message.
  • You “follow” people and people “follow you” although this will not necessarily be the same group.
  • You use the Twitter web site or any number of third party systems to interact with your “Twitter Stream”.
  • When you have something to announce you send a “tweet” with the 140 character restrictions.
  • Within the tweet you can “link” to sites so that others can have a look at what your referencing.
  • When your referencing to a subject that could possibly be searched you may add a “Hash Tag(#)” just before the subject id. somewhere i.e. #squidattacks.
  • If someone wants to make a public comment to you they will send an “at” comment to you i.e. @iankath.
  • If someone wants to make a private comment to you they will send a “direct”comment to you i.e. d iankath.

So that is basically all there is to Twitter, not much really. Yes there is search abilities and mobile tweeting but I want to keep this simple and stick with what Twitter is at it’s essence.

I’ve been mulling for some time as to why this simple little thing called Twitter is so popular, addictive and powerful and slowly what I’ve come to realise is that it’s actually a variation on what we’ve always been doing.

Now for the analogy…

Twitter is a party.



It starts with someone saying “Hey come to this party, it’s cool” so off you go on trust to a party where you may or may not know anyone. As you walk in you only have your friend who introduces you to a few others. You stay for a while and listen to the conversation and maybe comment where appropriate, if bored you move to other friends and pick up other conversations, sometimes deep and meaningful sometimes trivial. Slowly as you interact you meet more and engage with new friends. Over time and multiple visits you continue to meet more new friends and maybe continue themes of conversation, building rapport. You may choose to talk to a group, talk to one person and let others listen in or maybe you’ll walk to the side and have a private conversation. If you have a question you can yell it out to the whole group that may be listening and someone will offer an answer. If you say something out of line people will generally be polite, pull you to one side or just turn and walk away ignoring you.

There are people in the room who know huge numbers of people and some who only know a few. Then there are the celebraties who everyone knows but only associate with their select few.  There are even people outside of the party watching through the windows to try to understand but the party has no idea who they are and when we see them we sometimes say come on in but to be at the party you have to be in the party.

Ultimately there you are in this party of people as big as the world but you can only see and converse with the group of your friends but they are connected through several degrees of separation to everyone else. It’s not possible to be involved with every conversation in the room but you engage with those around you as you move and the whole time you have control of how large a group of friends you want to engage with. You can even wear a mask and stay under the radar.

To continue the analogy and I saw this happen… There you are at the party and someone on the balcony sees an Airbus land in the Hudson River. They quickly snap a photo and send it to the people in their group who send it to their group who send it… Well you get the idea. Here I am on the other side of the room in Australia and within 20 minutes after the event and maybe seconds from when it was sent, I was looking at that photo after it had rippled it’s way around the globe. Staggeringly amazing! That was an hour before the mainstream services were broadcasting anything about the ditching in the river.

Communities within and outside of twitter grow just like would happen if you hung out with the same party crowd for some time. Eventually trust is built and alliances are forged for activities outside of the party.

Twitter operates with the same rules of society with only slightly different etiquette due to the tools but if you respect you get respected, if you engage you are welcomed.

But watch out if you use and abuse because just like any party if you do you’ll find yourself standing in the corner wanting to be friends with everyone yelling and screaming about yourself and everyone will simple ignore you.

It’s a hell of a good party once you start to make friends, share and engage and unlike the analogy, with Twitter once in a while you can step away from the computer and go out and meet the people in the Real World and have an actual real party.


BTUB(Brisbane Twitter Underground Brigade) Party

Note : To gain a great understand how twitter started check out 140 CHARACTERS

Or this post of Tips and Hints by Laurel Papworth

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Diana Sunday, 1 February, 2009, 4:52 pm

    Ian that is a brilliant and apt analogy i think! well done! Love it!

  • Brett Fyfield Sunday, 1 February, 2009, 5:07 pm

    Hey nice analogy Ian. It is good to step away from the machine every now and again, good to see that you’ve acknowledged that. Also that antisocial behaviour online will get you nowhere either.

    Looking forward to meeting the btub crew at some stage in the near future.

  • MikeFitz Sunday, 1 February, 2009, 5:16 pm

    Good analogy, Ian. Works for me.

    I’ve just posted about my first month as a Twitterer.

  • Adam Daniel Mezei Wednesday, 11 February, 2009, 9:04 am

    I have a different comment — the “Share API” for Facebook doesn’t render well, as I’ve attempted for the glorious confines of YourStoryPodcast.com onto my Wall. Just wondered if anyone else felt similarly, or are these the ravings of a Prague-based madman?

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