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“What are you doing?”
“What are you doing?”
With this simple question, the international phenomenon known as Twitter was born. And, following in the footsteps of Facebook and YouTube, has quickly become the latest in a series of networking obsessions to sweep the World Wide Web.
Sunday, July 12,2009 05:18
by Kendall Scott Taqrir.org

With this simple question, the international phenomenon known as Twitter was born.  And, following in the footsteps of Facebook and YouTube, has quickly become the latest in a series of networking obsessions to sweep the World Wide Web.   




Launched in 2006 by a small start-up in California, Twitter.com is a free service, allowing users to send and receive messages via cell-phone, instant messenger, or on the Twitter site.  Each Tweet, as these messages are called, is comprised of a maximum 140 word response to the straightforward query, “What are you doing?”  Answers are shared among a network of friends, who can pay as much or as little attention as they choose. 




Unlike traditional messaging services, Twitter enable users to make their location, status, or even mood known to a large group with very little effort.  Though some Tweets are rather inane, “I’m eating a Sandwich,” for example, the site’s ability to tap into public opinion and connect interest groups has made it a widely popular, and highly controversial, new tool. 




Many of Twitter’s critics claim that the service offers too much information.  Who needs to know what your co-worker, much less friend of a friend of a friend, is doing every moment of the day?  The site’s meteoric rise in popularity however, seems to indicate otherwise.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Twitter has roughly 32 million users around the globe.  To some Tweeting may be one step to far, the company, however, has obviously found a market.




Though users may be interested in Twitter for mainly social reasons, the site has become an important resource for the corporate sector as well.  Twitter is an extremely efficient way to discover popular opinion and to feel-out consumer’s reactions to a product, person, or service.  Market-research through traditional methods such as focus groups or surveys is both costly and time consuming.  By quickly browsing through relevant Tweets however, providers can see what is popular and what needs to change.  Governments as well have expressed interest in Twitter for its ability to spread information quickly among a large number of people.  In the near future, emergency notifications, such as the whereabouts of a hurricane or the spread of an epidemic, may come in the form of Tweets.           




Many have cited Twitter as part of a larger trend towards democratization in the media.  Increasingly, mainstream media, known by the acronym MSM in the twittering world, is being replaced by more decentralized sources of information.  Blogs and social-networking services are changing the relationship between news-sources and their readership.  Recently, Twitter was flooded by complaints that MSM services were not offering sufficient coverage of the protests in Iran.  Thousands, according to the New York Times, complained that American news networks, especially CNN, were providing insufficient information on the country’s political unrest.  Objections, under the subject label CNNfail, were lodged by the second.  CNN was quick to notice the online outcry-and to defend its coverage.  The ease with which users demanded answers, however, indicates that Twitter is becoming an important tool for holding mainstream media accountable.   




Online networking services, such as Twitter and Facebook, are bringing a fundamental shift to traditionally top-down social, economic, and political relations.  A company, for example, used to dictate the product or service it offered consumers and could only hope to hit on an area of need.  Increasingly, Twitter and similar sites are reversing this trend.  When Dell released its Mini 9 laptop, a number of Twitterers noticed that the apostrophe and the return keys were too close.  The New York Times explains that Dell -wisely following consumer’s reactions on Twitter.com- noticed the pattern and changed the keyboard on the Mini 10.  This is only one example of such occurrences, which are becoming more and more commonplace.       




Twitter has also played an important role in connecting public figures to their audience.  Barack Obama made extensive use of Twitter during his campaign, though the President has not Tweeted since taking office.  Celebrities too have turned to the site as a way of communicating with their fans.  More and more, Tweets are becoming a marketing tool, used to help craft a star’s public image.  The Tweets themselves are often the work of “Ghost Twitterers,” staff-members responsible for writing clever, well-thought-out updates in their employers voice. 




Though Twitter’s premise seems relatively benign, answers around the globe have sparked considerable controversy.  Feedback, while desired by some, is exactly what many governments don’t want.  Because of its ability to connect and organize interest groups, Tweets have become a powerful mechanism for voicing dissent.  In Moldova, Twitter was used to mobilize protesters this April, who came out in the 1,000s in opposition to questionable parliamentary elections.  Twitter allowed opposition leaders to spread the time and location of protest sights, without coming under the radar of local officials. 




Most recently, Twitter has played a significant part in the outcry against Ahmadinejad’s electoral victory in Iran.  Though it is difficult to tell the role that Twitter is playing within the country itself, Tweets have become a vital source of information for foreigners.  Iranian students especially have used Twitter to communicate what is going on inside their country and to forward reports to the mainstream media, which has been all but blocked by Ahmadinejad’s government. 




On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department requested that Twitter hold off on scheduled maintenance shut-down because of its obvious influence on the course of events in Iran.  Though the administration claims that this was only a low-level suggestion, made so that Iranians could continue communication, the request nevertheless indicates Twitter’s evolution away from a purely social network.  Tweets are becoming an increasingly popular form of communication, not just on trivial matters, but on substantial issues such as consumer satisfaction and governmental reform.  The new technology that Twitter employs allows the public to hold mainstream media, businesses, and politicians accountable to degree that has never before been possible. 




Though Twitter has grown tremendously in the past several years, its potential has barely been tapped.  Twitter could change the way we search for jobs, trade stocks, take polls, pay our bills and much, much more.  One man actually developed a pregnancy belt that feels a baby’s kick then tweets, “I’m kicking.”  It is clear that Twitter is effecting substantial change.  It is now up to Tweeters themselves to determine in which direction the service will head.


The Source

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