One way to learn how to use a particular technology is to read a book about it. From the day I heard of it, I was wondering what Twitter is for. I know that many celebrities have millions of followers but this part of Twitter is not what I am interested in. I am more interested in technology, and computer geeks believe it or not are not the most social people on Earth. So Twitter is not kind of service that I was likely to use unless I found a reason for that.
So what kind of information I consume? I like technology news, reading about various cool tricks, new programming environments, and stuff like that. To introduce a new programming framework it takes longer than a tweet. The most convenient form is a blog, and this is why I am a dedicated user of Google Reader. I have been using this RSS aggregator for many years, I am constantly adding new blogs, and I guess I am subscribed to several hundred blogs.
The only problem with blogs is that they are too long to read, so most of the time I only glance through a few sentences in each blog. So my usage pattern of Google Reader is pretty similar to that of Twitter since the length of Twitter message is around 140 characters. However, these number of characters is enough only for 1, or maybe 2 sentences. Whereas my threshold is probably 5 sentences. So I want to read 300-500 characters. And this is what Facebook is for. Its news roll contains exactly that number of characters for each news story.
So is there anything I can use twitter for? After reading the book I was able to answer that question. Yes, Twitter is useful. It is an ideal environment for sharing your thoughts. The psychologists found out that the length of a human thought expressed in characters is 100-200 characters. And thoughts do come and go, and very often not when you expect them to come. So it is important to store them before you forget. Many smart people used to carry a notebook all the time and write down their thoughts and observations. I started to use Twitter to share my thoughts, with no particular intent, and this looks like a lot of fun.
Still, I figured out another use case for Twitter: follow other human beings who share their thoughts with you. This stream of information is pretty unpredictable, so it is important to organize it in a proper way. This book recommends TweetDeck тАУ this is really great software! It makes it possible to group your subscriptions in a number of columns and watch each of them populated with new content. Whenever a new tweet arrives youтАЩll see a popup box on your screen.
From technological point of view tweets are the least structured pieces of information and this is why searching them is an extremely complicated task. I think social search is a cool research topic for the next 5-10 years. Maybe it is Google who is going to get it right, maybe not, but I am pretty sure someone will get it right eventually. Right now the best way of finding relevant and interesting tweets is through catalogue web sites тАУ it looks so 1990s! I guess Google killed its directory service long time ago. But for Twitter it is a very viable option. So here are a few: Twellow and Wefollow.
Still, to me Twitter looks like a part of US culture. I donтАЩt know how widely it is used in the rest of the world. I wonder what is the users demographics. As usual, US is innovating and the rest of the world adopts the technology, possibly transforming it in one way or another. I guess this is what is going to happen to Twitter as well. What an exciting time for a technology geek!