What the fuck is twitter?

This is the ultra-scientific question that led me to do some digging. Wikipedia says that “Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates know as tweets…Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them.”

At first, it seemed really pointless to me (not to mention a little silly- come on “tweets”? couldn’t they have picked a better word? Callum calls it Twatter, which I think it hilarious).  I digress. It’s also a little creepy. When I read some of the blogs I like, there is usually a button that says “On Twitter? Follow Me.” Weird. Not ‘be my friend” like on Facebook or Myspace. Follow Me. Why? Because you are either the pied piper or a pedophile?

Although Twitter is 99% useless (my own wildy-unreliable and biased stats), it can, apparently, be extremely useful. Bystanders and victims of the Mumbai Seige used Twitter to gather news and coordinate responses – CNN called it “the day that social media appeared to come of age.” God, I hate the way CNN says things, even if in this case, they may be right.

I’m still reading HERE COMES EVERYBODY, and it’s really got me thinking about the uses of social media. For example, Clay Shirky asks

What does a service like Twitter, whose public face is so banal offer Abd El Fattah and the other Egyptian activists? Some of the value is fairly prosaic – free speech activists are harassed or detained in several countries in the Middle East, so they use Twitter to alert one another as to whether they’ve passed through various security checkpoints (often at airports); the absence of a message may mean they’ve been detained. On other occasions, though, it provides a way to spread real news. Here is how Alaa reported the news of the arrest and continued detention of Abdel Monem Mahmoud, another Cairo blogger:

they’ve arrested ikhwani blogger monem we must organize a campaign 10:07 AM April 13

turns out Monem did not turn himself in yet, he is hiding from police until lawyers find out more details, but they did break into his home 03:31 April 13

And so on and so forth.  And the really nifty thing, as Shirky points out, is that these two bloggers come from opposite ends of the spectrum – one is secular and the other belongs to the conservative  Muslim Brotherhood. They both believe in free speech, and this is what brings them together. (Oh, the things that CNN would have you NOT know). Shirky says “These tools allow citizens to report the news when they see it, without having to go through (or face delay and censorship by) official news channels.” Neato. Seriously.

The thing that really boggles my mind about all this social media is the un-erasability of it all. (Yes, I may have just made up a word). These little tiny bits of news, inane or not, are going to last forever on a server somewhere. They will probably outlast humans, (although not if John Connor has something to say about it!) Everything we have reported through facebook, through twitter, through whatever – it won’t be erased (and is probably being read by Dick Cheney in an underground lair).

I’m trying to figure out whether this bothers me or not.


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