The Impact of Twitter

I was pretty early in signing up for Twitter.  I don’t remember exactly when, but early.  I followed a few people, mostly ones in the tech world such as Leo Laporte, etc.  I didn’t check my account all that often and, when I did, there were too many posts to read back through.

After a while, I discovered Twitter desktop apps and things improved.  I think it was twhirl, but I couldn’t swear to it.  My use of Twitter went up with this new advance.  Now I could keep the app open on my desktop, in the background.  I started to follow a little more, post a little more, and was better able to keep up with the posts of those I was following.

Then I got an app for my phone.  After a while I changed to another and then yet another.  Currently I use TouchTwit.  This, the phone app, was the biggest revelation for me.  Now Twitter is always with me no matter where I am.  Now I no longer miss any posts from any of the people I follow.  And I post much more than ever.

This phone revelation, which began for me a couple of years ago, prompted more changes than those I just mentioned though.  It prompted me to really think about who I followed.  I made changes.  I added and I removed.  I discovered there were two distinctively different types of people (or in some cases entities) I was following.  There were those I followed for fun – some are my friends, some are pro athletes, some are tech journalists.  And then there were those I followed for news and information – for instance a local news radio station and local newspaper keep me up-to-date on local news, Breaking News keeps me informed of national and world news, ProCyclingLive keeps me up to the minute about what is going on during a bike race, AmazonMP3 and AmazonVideo give me deals on purchases and rentals (complete with the occasional coupon code for a discount), and this list goes on.

There is humor to be found – take a tweet I remember from a year or so ago from Lance Armstrong (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Dear ATT, it’s been two weeks since you said you’d fix my home phone.  Maybe tomorrow?”  Followed a few hours later by another tweet along the lines of “just returned from a training ride and there’s an ATT truck in front of my house.”  Not only was it amusing, but it also demonstrated the power that having a LOT of followers can have, even over a major corporation.

There’s the real human impact that came home to us last year when we all sat spellbound as the only news that we, or even the major outlets like CNN, could get about the Iranian Election protests came to us via the citizens of Iran as they posted to Twitter what was happening, complete with pictures and videos, in their country.  Their internet shut off by a dictatorial regime, they got word out to the world using Twitter apps and cellular connections.  They nearly brought down a tyrannical government using modern technology that these old-style regimes weren’t prepared to deal with.

I sat dumbfounded over my breakfast one morning as tweet after tweet rolled past revealing the horror of the Chilean earthquake and subsequent tsunami warnings.  The information leapfrogged the best news outlets we have because it came, first-person, from those who were there on the ground, in the middle of the devastation.

And, I will close with a gem (for me at least).  Recently my daughter celebrated a birthday.  She is also a huge football fan of, thankfully, the same team that I am a fan of.  I took a chance and tweeted to one of her favorite players that she was a fan and it was her birthday.  Within 20 minutes I received a reply from him wishing her, by name, a happy birthday.  She now has a printout of that tweet hanging on her wall.  I certainly can’t say that all such people in his position would have done this.  But it’s great that we have this way of communicating with even the famous and, if they want, they can communicate back with their fans.  (Note: I am not naming him because I wouldn’t want him to be swamped with requests.)

In a short time Twitter has gone from posts about what you had for breakfast to changing the world.  They may have fewer users than Facebook, but there’s a very real reason why many say Facebook has Twitter-envy.  They may have the power and the technology to change the world in very palpable ways, especially in places where governments have a vested interest in the suppression of information.