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The rise of Twitter

The rise of Twitter

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"On blogging" column Document Transcript

  • 1. www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bal-to.ratner23sep23,0,2491725.column
    baltimoresun.com
    We're all a-twitter being succinct
    Andrew Ratner
    On Blogs
    September 23, 2008
    Samuel Morse tapped out this historic message upon inventing the telegraph: What hath God wrought?22 characters long.Alexander Graham Bell's first spoken words on a telephone: Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.41 characters.Neil Armstrong upon walking onto the moon: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.58 characters.Some of man's greatest breakthroughs have been announced in a handful of words, so perhaps the new form of " micro-blogging" called twitter, which limits all messages to 140 characters, is onto something.Launched a few years ago, twitter got a lot of attention during the recent political conventions with delegates, journalists and bloggers twittering away on their cell phones and laptops from the floor.The premise of twitter is that you're supposed to write about what you're doing " at that moment," which produced such posts as " Just saw Sean Penn smoking outside the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. He said he's in town for the convention." Even the twitter creators acknowledge that many folks find their social-network blogging a mystery: Why would I want to know what everyone else was up to? Other users who want to see your twitter posts - called " tweets" - sign up as your " followers." Twitter does not fall in the category of, say, YouTube, the video-sharing site that mesmerized many the first time they used it. But plenty of grand innovations, from the automobile to Facebook, were also initially met with the reaction, " Why would I ever want to use that?" Jack Dorsey hatched the idea for it after marveling at the instant-message function that many offices use that alert folks that " Joe is in a meeting" and " Sue stepped away for coffee" and " Paul is out." What if the capability was available to, well, anybody in the world at that moment, he wondered?Biz Stone, who developed the concept with Dorsey, said the 140-character limit resulted from figuring a maximum phone text message at 160 characters and then leaving some room for people to add their " twitter address." " We saw these massive spikes in use during the [conventions] when the candidates were giving speeches. It was wild to watch it in real time," said Stone, speaking from his home in Berkeley, Calif., and sounding more naturalist than futurist. " We've all seen a flock of birds move as one around an object. How can they move around that object and be so choreographed? One bird watches another bird's shoulder and knows to stay a few feet apart. There's an initial awkwardness, but it's a new way for humans to react. We've seen it work at festivals and conferences. People begin to move as one, like a flock." Twitter has had success stories the creators hadn't envisioned.Comcast has gotten attention for receiving and responding to customer complaints on twitter.A NASA communications manager, Veronica McGregor, continues to provide a running dialogue for people on the progress of the Phoenix rover that landed on Mars last spring.Twitter's three dozen or so employees were particularly proud that the first notice of the Southern California earthquake last July 29 went out at 11:42 a.m., nine minutes before the Associated Press bulletin. During those nine minutes, 3,600 updates that mentioned " earthquake" flashed across twitter accounts.Twitter also isn't the first technology to have people wonder how anyone could make a business from it. The messages are simple, unadorned, with no video or pictures in an increasingly visual world. But a communications system with (by some estimates) a couple million users would seem to have promise, especially one that groups people with similar interests. Some businesses are already using it to alert people to special fares or prompt them to their Web site, which many may dismiss as mere spam by another name.Stone talked about a filter that would analyze patterns of thoughts and feelings expressed on twitter but said he wasn't prepared to elaborate further.That could be gold to a company or someone running for office, although how Stone and Dorsey could ever devise an algorithm that could scrub the sarcasm in so many twitter posts is anybody's guess." Nice" doesn't always signal approval on a tweet.