Will 140 characters change the world? I’m beginning to be a believer. If nothing else, Twitter may change the way we live in it. Of course, this is coming from an addict, and I find myself using the micro-blogging site for just about everything.
Signing on to Twitter is like joining a giant party in progress. By following others, you’ve invited them to the party, and they often bring their friends along by re-tweeting people they’re following. Through the site, you’re standing in the center of a room filled with hundreds of people. The site allows you to crash their conversations or just follow along. And, if you’ve chosen wisely, the people you’re following on the site are having conversations that you’re interested in.
They’re often relaying information that can’t be found anywhere else.
When the Big 12 conference was breaking up last summer, I scoured the site for reporters covering Big 12 schools. Reporters from a University of Texas fan magazine seemed to have the inside scoop. I knew the University of Nebraska was leaving the Big 12 long before ESPN announced it. Several reporters used 140 quick characters to relay the headline on Twitter long before their stories hit the wire.
Locally, Stephanie Sawyer Clayton, or @sscjocoks as she’s known on Twitter, live tweets meetings. At 140 characters at a time, she reports school board meetings in Shawnee Mission, the occasional county meeting and political events in real time.
It isn’t just gathering information that makes the site so useful. It’s interactive in a way that even Facebook isn’t. For one, most of the people who use Twitter have open accounts. Want to learn more about your favorite athlete or movie star? You can find them on Twitter.
When my family was headed to the Cotton Bowl to watch Kansas State University play the University of Arkansas, I started following Razorback fans on the micro-blogging site. @HoopRC, who I don’t know in real life, is a Razorback fan who seemed to have the inside scoop leading up to the game, and knowing more than I’ve ever wanted to know about the Arkansas Hogs made game day all the more enjoyable.
It isn’t all fun and games. Twitter offers first person accounts of important events in real time. I knew Osama bin Laden was dead hours before any of the U.S. television stations reported it.
Sohaib Athar, @ReallyVirtual, unknowingly live tweeted the demise of the U.S.A.’s most wanted.
“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 a.m. is a rare event,” he tweeted as U.S. military forces launched a top secret mission to kill the terrorist.
Although that didn’t give the game away fully, the drip of leaks from the area slowly started making their way into Twitter feeds. It took a full two hours between the time I knew bin Laden was dead before it was reported on Fox News. (Reporters were, of course, waiting for confirmation and hinting that a big story was likely coming soon.)
As the political season launches, I will use the site to track legislators in Topeka and campaigns across the country. Unlike in traditional media, Twitter has no filter between the information seeker and those with a story to tell.
And it’s being used by dissidents in oppressive countries in the search for freedom and democracy. It connects people with common interests. In the best (and probably worst) ways, it is more than a pleasant distraction.
Will Twitter change the world? Maybe. It can definitely influences the way its users look at it.