Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

What is Twitter? (clue – it’s not Facebook)n
07/02/2009, 18:56
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , ,

This morning’s interview with Phantom 105.2 left me feeling a little frustrated. Twitter is something I’m a massive advocate of, so I’m always disappointed to hear it described as another Facebook-style “fad”.

I was the second guest on the show, there to explain what Twitchhiker is, but the conversation that pre-empted me effectively summed up Twitter as a something to tell people what you had for tea. No wonder people think I’m a nutjob for attempting this:

“I’m going to Campbell Island near the Antarctic circle!”

“Well I’ve just had a creamy chicken tikka masala for tea. Have fun!”

“Er. Aren’t you going to help me cross oceans and stuff?”

“Would you like a poppadom?”

As far as the UK is concerned (I’m not sure what the situation is in other countries, but I’d love to hear) Twitter is going mainstream in a fury right now. The two key factors have been the prominence of Stephen Fry on Twitter, and the suspension of presenter Jonathan Ross from the BBC; Ross’ lack of profile during his suspension led several tabloids to create sensational stories out of his throwaway tweets, inadvertently creating national press coverage for Twitter. When Fry discussed Twitter with Ross on his first TV chat show following his suspension, the UK went ape-shit for it.

The problem is that, aside from a handful of exceptions, the mainstream media hadn’t entirely cottoned onto Twitter either. They were, and still are reporting on a phenomenon they don’t quite understand themselves, which is why whenever there’s an attempt to describe Twitter, a comparison is invariably made to a well-established social media network like Facebook.

Twitter isn’t Facebook. You can use it to provide status updates, like Facebook. But that’s where all similarities end. The two are as different as chalk and Chesterfield.

Plenty of very new users are following @twitchhiker; a quick glance at their profile tends to show they’re following plenty of famous people, they have very few people following them, they’re still testing the water with teatime-style updates and their first tweet is something of the lines of: “Trying to figure out how to use Twitter.” For example:




My worry is that having been sold this unmissable new craze, the masses will denounce it as the Emperor’s new clothes. It can take weeks, even months for Twitter to click; it took me nearly a year of dipping in and out of it before I twigged. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to helping new users quickly understand the potential of Twitter, and that’ll most likely be my next blog post, as I continue to avoid more pertinent questions such as “once you get wherever you’re going, how are you going to get back home?” and “aren’t you afraid somebody will murder you?”.

To be fair, Twitter is a tricky sell when Twitter themselves don’t explain it very well. No wonder the media think its sole purpose is to report what mundane mealtime choices when the the homepage states: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

That statement might be tidy, but nobody I know uses Twitter in that manner. The service has the potential to be so much more, but then it’d be arrogant to say it should be used in a particular way. So this lunchtime (I had bacon sandwiches, since you’re asking) I asked followers of @twitchhiker to describe what Twitter is and what it means to them. In 140 characters or less, naturally. My contribution was:

@twitchhiker: Twitter is a room full of strangers. Talk just to your friends and you’ll leave the party early. Mingle, and you’ll learn, share and grow.

As you read on, three points become abundantly clear; everyone uses Twitter in their own way; it is what you make it; it’s not bloody Facebook.

@littlecharva: SMS is whispering privately to a mate in a pub. Twitter is speaking loud enough for everyone to hear and including them in the conversation.

@Daz71: Twitter is “opt in”, broadcast instant messenger. I subscribe to who I want to read about. A big friendly community.

@tygerbaby: Twitter is a way to make connections, and meet and engage people worldwide, both personally and professionally.

@dnas2: Twitter does 2 things: 1) Quickly cascade information among people with same interests 2) Meet new people & get to know them.

@WindermereLodge: It’s is a marvellous way of filling up otherwise productive time. Brilliant, fun, dangerous, new, helpful, annoying, addictive.

@rbourne: A community of thoughts, news and emotions mixed together to create an addictive service for one and all.

@markiina: Pretentious, I know, but to me Twitter is like watching the Tower of Babel being rebuilt, pebble by pebble.

@THXII38: Twitters a way to follow subjects I like. I mostly follow people that post links of interest & I chat a little bit to people too

@johnhenry: It’s a message to all who want to listen or just to one. I love it when I have things to say or show or when others tweet well.

@burdzelkrai: With Twitter I can send one text saying I’m running late for the movie, instead of wasting $ sending texts to 5 individuals…

@alexanderhorre: It’s a user-centric value network with one-to-many connections alongside one-to-one connections built on linking shared info.

@Sadsack99: An opportunity to use an online tool for u want. There is no right or wrong way, but you you will definitely meet new peeps

@Equinspire: Twitter is a support group for Stephen Fry’s many stalkers 😉

@fra66le: Many nations, many topics, short and sweet. Information deluge. Ever present audience ready to input. Access all areas.

@hydie: Twitter is people watching extreme!

@RachelSMorris: Twitter is like legalised stalking! making fiends with strangers, sharing lives, connecting.

@cassandra2603: Twitter is communication, it means being able to vent and express feelings, it means I can keep in touch with people everywhere

@brewster_d: My favourite waste of time. Random thought collector. Superficial social contact provider. Work avoider 🙂

@RachelSMorris: Twitter is like legalised stalking! making friends with strangers, sharing lives, connecting.

@drewellis: Twitter introduces and connects me with new, interesting, like minded people all over the world I wouldn’t normally get to meet so quickly.

@onion2k: Twitter is like a banana. The skin is.. and the flesh is like the.. and you unzip it.. er.. Twitter is nothing like a banana…

@dbdkmezz: I’m new, so all Twitter means to me is complete confusion! A great feeling of potential, but no clear idea of the real utility.

@dudegalea: The only twitter you find at the top of a mountain is the twitter you bring with you.

@lloydiboy: Twitter is a means of giving everyone a voice. Listen hard and the opinions of millions will touch you, make you laugh or cry.

@mwnm: Twitter is my way of ranting at the world, one bit at a time, occasionally people listen.

@IanPitcher: Twitter lets me rant, vent, expound and inform. People can ignore me or pay attention to me as is their wont.

@Catboy_Dubai: Twitter not only lets you peek through ppl’s curtains like a nosy neighbour but also allows a curtain-gap for ppl to see you.

@SusieGennoe: Twitter is the latest way of curtain twitching without the guilt! Noseying into other folks lives and having a laugh with them

@brmbds: Came to Twitter a month ago a skeptic. Now don’t know how I managed without it. I’m learning, laughing, linking up & loving it.

@Beadmouse_uk: A one line journal. An all night conversation.

@bungalowjoe: Twitter breaks down all cultural and class boundaries and allows people to share their viewpoint on everyday life

@MWPayne: Twitter is a cut-down facebook for status hungry info-freaks”

@DaddyP: Twitter is the sewing circle of the ‘Noughties’ – be there or be somewhere else – but you might miss out on some juicy gossip!

@ustaliknits: Twitter is a place where everyone has equal rights and resources. It’s how we use them…

@maketravelfair: Twitter is a globally continuous thread of conversation that keeps you current, expands your world and engages you in it.

@RedMummy: Twitter is a network where like-minded people find each other & communicate in a concise but friendly and often witty fashion.

@PaulAston: Twitter is like being in a pub with some friends and eavesdropping on everyone Eelse’s conversations. And then stalking them.

@Thomas419924: Its psychotherapy on the cheap ,friendship,help,solutions,ideas,fun,thought provoking

@Get_mummy_a_gin: It means office banter replacement therapy. Gave up work a year ago and miss banter. Shame Twitter doesn’t have office party.

@bskinny72: Twitter to me is a group of new friends, comic conversations I cannot have due to lack of like minded friends,a fun distraction.

And my favourite:

@PeteMP1992: Twitter is like loads of different birds which do great things when together, such as carrying whales.


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[…] is pretty adventurous and interesting. He does actually understand Twitter though, particularly his insight into people who’ve signed up based on recent popularity among celebs, but still don’t ‘get’ […]

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