Aflutter Over Twitter

If you haven’t checked in with Steve Dembo’s Teach42 or Digital Passports blog in the past week, then Twitter might be new to you. Twitter is suddenly all over the news . . .

Mini-blog is the Talk of Silicon Valley – Financial Times (March 26, 2007)

Jonathan Schwartz, chief executive of Sun Microsystems, singled Twitter out at the end of last week as the latest hit from the post-YouTube generation of "viral" internet applications that have the potential to attract massive online audiences.

What is Twitter, and is there any reason I should care? – Guardian Unlimited (March 15, 2007)

True, on first glance it is a baffling and seemingly pointless service – but underneath it proves intriguing, useful and addictive for those who live on the move. One observer called it "the Seinfeld of the internet … a website about nothing". Twitter’s backers have form in this area. One, Nebraskan Ev Williams, was a founder of Blogger.com, the site that kickstarted the huge growth of blogging in the late 1990s. Another, Biz Stone, was involved in the early days of Xanga.com – a MySpace-style affair that is now one of the top 50 sites in the world.

Why is the blogworld atwitter over Twitter? – Spokesman Review (March 26, 2007)

The idea behind Twitter, as its slogan suggests, is for users to answer the question "What are you doing?" by typing messages of 140 characters or less into a browser or mobile text-messaging device.

Twitter: All Trivia, All The Time – Business Week (April 2007 issue)

Twitter taps into a basic need of many Web users: to suck up every last crumb of personalized information, instantly. Steve Rubel, a public-relations exec who can’t seem to stop blogging about Twitter despite protests from some of his readers, points to how Twitter was his first source of news for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby’s conviction. Other Twitter fans boast that they beat the U.S. Geological Survey in relaying news about a recent moderate quake in San Francisco. For some, Twitter reflects the increasing power of word-of-mouth networks to change how news is made and defined and how marketing is distributed.

John Edwards on Twitter Actually Makes Marketing Sense – ClickZ (March 23, 2007)

The last time he used Twitter to send a message, or as we like to say here at ClickZ, "twitted," was a few days ago — March 19th. ("Great event at Benedict College, Columbia SC today. Lots of energy. Headed to Iowa tonight.") I’ll bet he’ll be back soon though.

The Edwards case, however, has me rethinking this. People do care where political candidates are at any given moment. For the campaign to be experimenting with this makes sense. In a way, by displaying the candidate in more of a real-time sense, it feels more casual, and almost seems like it makes him more accessible. It’s all nuanced, feely stuff, but for many people, the feeling we get from a candidate is what drives our opinion of that individual as opposed to the actual issues.

So, what exactly is Twitter? According to Twitter.com/faq:

What is Twitter? Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing. For some friends you might want instant mobile updates—for others, you can just check the web. Invite your friends to Twitter and decide how connected you want you to be.

How does Twitter work? When you send in a mobile text (SMS), Twitter sends it out to your group of friends and posts it to your Twitter page. Your friends might not have phone alerts turned on so they may check your web page instead. Likewise, you receive your friends mobile updates on your phone.

How much does it cost? Twitter is a free service. At some point we may introduce optional, for-pay features or services but basic usage will remain free. Note: with phone alerts turned on, Twitter makes use of texting or SMS so check with your mobile provider to find out if this will cost you extra.

In addition to the SMS features, Twitter also integrates seamlessly with blogs, wikis, and other web authoring platforms that allow embedded media. If you check my blog, you can see my Twitter feed. I just registered for the service yesterday. In addition to the one-user feed you see on my blog, users can also embed a full timeline that includes all a user’s friends as well.

Users can also subscribe via RSS to a user’s feed.

So, what do I think of Twitter? Right now, I think it is pretty cool. I can certainly see educational uses for it. I think it would be a cool way for teachers to track cooperative group work. I could also see it as a neat application for tracking media headlines and comparing what different media outlets are reporting and conjecturing as to why they are selecting certain issues to report. It would also be cool to track multiple perspectives of an activity (i.e. have students record observations with a different focus and, then, make generalizations based on the data). Perhaps, students recording data for a science lab could make their observations on Twitter and link to their partners’ feeds as friends.

I’m interested to see how others might see this used for an educational purpose.

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