I have been completely in love with the unlikely internet juggernaut that is Twitter for almost a year now, and I am still nearly always unable to describe it accurately to people who do not use it. Yes, it's like instant messaging, kind of. And kind of like a chat-room. And sort of like blogging--instantaneous micro-blogging, anyway. It comes from a wholly simple and straightforward place, asking simply, "What are you doing?" and then providing you with 140 characters worth of blank space to answer that question, as frequently or infrequently as you choose.
When I first entered the Twitter playground last year, most people simply answered the question, using the automatic placement of their username as the beginning of a declarative statement. As in, "ninjapoodles is waiting for the dryer to finish, awestruck at the glamor that is her life." For most folks, Twitter was pretty personal, and we followed mostly people we already knew, either in "real life" or online, and read their updates and posted our own. Then, a few months ago, the Twitter timeline somehow became a conversation. A live, constant, global conversation. New connections were made. In response to the ways that its users were utilizing the service, Twitter made changes to the way the application works. More and more, people were responding to each other directly, by placing '@' in front of another's username. Most of us added more and more followers, as we saw our friends responding to people we hadn't known about, and clicked over to their profiles and found that we liked them, too, and wanted to follow them.
Now, Twitter has added a wonderful little swooshy arrow at the end of each update, so that you can simply click on it to reply to the poster, without even having to type in their username yourself. As of this writing, I have posted a total of 5,836 updates on Twitter, received several hundred "DMs" (direct messages), and I'm following what seems like an insane number of people--353--and adding more daily. I don't automatically follow everyone who follows me, but I do follow anyone who interacts with me directly. In the beginning, I tried to keep a lid on the number of people I'd follow, because I couldn't keep up with a cluttered "timeline," but with the '@' feature, I can easily click on the "replies" tab and see if anyone has addressed me directly, without scanning back through the timeline.
There's also a "favorites" feature, where you can click a star next to a post and mark it as a favorite, for Twitter to save. Tonight was the first time I opened my "favorites" file and looked back on all the posts I'd saved. Here is a samping of updates which I found, for whatever reason, worthy of saving over the last year or so.
This screen-grab is a perfect illustration of how the Twitter timeline can capture the mundane, the angsty, the humorous, and the profound at a glance:
Some of the "Tweets" I save are replies to something I've posted, that made me laugh or meant something to me so that I wanted to remember them. Some struck me as funny:
Others touched me (and probably now have meaning only to me):
And some I save when people speak to me in languages from other planets:
Some Tweets are two-parters (read from the bottom up):
Sometimes an exchange between others is so funny to me that I save the whole thing, like this one (yes, I am so good at screen captures that I left the cursor in the middle of the shot--that word is "idea"). Remember that the Twitter timeline posts the most recent updates at the top, so read exchanges from bottom to top:
But by far, the updates I "favorite" (one thing that really bugs me about the internet is the increasing creation of new verbs) most often are stand-alone posts, usually the ones that make me laugh. These, more than anything else, are probably what makes Twitter worth using for me. Forget "social media," networking, whatever...sometimes, I just want to see what other folks are doing, and hopefully have a chuckle.
So...What are you doing?
UPDATE: Edited to add this video (thanks, Zach!), explaining the bare-bones basics of Twitter to the uninitiated.