Tweet This

Is Twitter a revolutionary social media platform or a free promotional tool for websites and celebrities looking for hits?

If you have a purpose, Twitter can be a powerful tool.  Its strength lies in the short accessibility of its format combined with its massive user base.  Its developers have constructed a devious web-work of user-to-user access.  Its incorporation into almost every facet of the web is clearly a success story.  I don't mean to understate Twitter's brilliance, but for me, a non-celebrity user not following a civil war in my country or promoting a product, it's hard for me to see the point or get caught up in the enthusiasm.

I have a Twitter account, but after a period of experimentation, I haven't used it in some time.  My friends use it to promote articles they've written by posting links there.  For them, this is a vital outreach for potential readers who would never otherwise have access.

Some might argue that Facebook can be used similarly, but I feel Facebook's interface encourages a different sort of communication amongst friends and acquaintances.  Twitter's interface, on the other hand, encourages mass promotion, and it's a much more impersonal format, which makes such promotion more palatable for those conveying and receiving it.

If you are promoting something, getting new followers can be tricky.  If you are a celebrity using the service, obtaining followers is easy.  Subsequently, if you are a celebrity, Twitter is a fascinating liaison between star and fan.  It can be used to promote current projects, to experiment with the boundaries of one's own celebrity and to play with society's relationship with the notion of celebrity.  In this sense, as a celebrity tool, it is at its most accessible and most interesting.

However, Twitter is not described this way in most of its mainstream media coverage.  It's described as a revolutionary social networking tool.  Its prevalence as a conveyance of Celebrity culture is not discussed nearly as often.

Staying relevant in Twitter is about mastering the art of constructing a steady stream of funny, shocking, clever, or interesting tweets.  This is not a skill everybody has.  Maintaining interest in a Twitter account involves all kinds of arduously clever self-promotion.  Some of the best social networking tools, like LinkedIn and Facebook, involve gobs of self promotion but aren't so focused on the sound bite.  Such is the way of a professional networking site.

Some argue that Twitter's strength is its bare-bones, all-purpose utility.  It is used for promotion, for communication, for information sharing, and for many other things, all in the same 140 character format (or sometimes, an awkward patchwork of 140 character messages strung together, something no one who loves Twitter seems to mind).

The element missing from Twitter is a sleek and structured interface through which its purportedly multiple purposes can be utilized.  I've spent a good deal of time on the Twitter site, along with the various mobile incarnations of the service, and I have yet to find a satisfactory interface that clearly illustrates its revolutionary nature.  I had the same problem with Google Buzz and Google Wave, two failed projects that imploded (although those were much less useful).

Whether you are testing a new joke out on your audience, alerting the world to a humanitarian crisis, or sharing the best recipe site on the web, my guess is, you use Twitter in largely the same way.  I think this is its strength and its weakness.  It's difficult to discount Twitter's role in facilitating something as profound as updates of a global crisis or something as banal as advancing the newest meme.  But the fact remains - Twitter is not always a service where information is found, but rather a link station.  I read tweets daily and I consider it as a service where you find information on where to find information.  It's a mere conveyance, and in this sense, it's doing something that thousands of other sites already do, only it has an unprecedented following.

A cynical observer might note that Twitter has provided free on the ground journalism for news outlets who would otherwise have to take great risks to gain access to, for instance, countries hostile to foreign journalists.  Same cynical observer might conclude the preponderance of Twitter mentions in news today has more to do with journalism's reliance on the format.  In the book 'Tweets from Tahrir,' a collection of published tweets during the recent Egyptian revolution, the publishers got permission to re-print the tweets, but ostensibly, the cause was too noble for the tweeters to receive any sort of compensation for their effort.

How do you use Twitter?  How has it changed your life?  How has it transformed the way you communicate? I'd like to hear from you.  Maybe I'll learn something that will change my life, because as of right now, Twitter hasn't done that, despite the hype.


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