I've been writing a piece on Twitter for people who aren't on Twitter. Here it is...
When I hear this summer’s tuis going squawk, rasp and whistle, it seems like Twitter has somehow taken over my garden. But when the mini-blog site was invented back in 2006 its name was merely “twttr” – a five-letter code partly inspired by the picture-sharing website, Flickr.
An American called Jack Dorsey and some friends were messing about with the idea of being able to contact small groups of friends via SMS messaging. It was only when they spotted the global potential of their idea that Twitter, the brand, came to life complete with its little bird logo.
Five years on the avian chorus is deafening, with tweets breaking out all across the virtual arena that some call the Twitterverse.
Twitter is smaller than Facebook and YouTube but is still enormous at around 100 million users. Million, schmillion… it’s just one slice of the vast social-media pie, but more and more of us are taking flight there.
Many will start out like me. You open a free account (my name there is @lindseyoutloud) at www.twitter.com, do one cautious tweet, find a few people to ‘follow’, then just sit back and watch. Once the world starts streaming in you begin to ‘get it’. Soon you too will be itching to tweet – using no more than 140 characters at a time, please. It’s interesting how inventive you can become.
Unbelievers will tell you that reading celebrity prattle is a big yawn. But tick the right ‘follow’ boxes and you’ll be well entertained. By following Vanity Fair, for instance, I can get early alerts to top story links on that magazine’s website so I can read tasty pieces way before the actual issue gets here.
I follow comedians, writers, politicians, monks, big thinkers, artists and activists – and a bunch of friends old and new. It’s great for new thoughts and ideas and video links and, as with Facebook, you can direct-message your contacts as well.
Aucklander Linda Coles, of Blue Banana Ltd, is making her living training business people in how to build relationships online. “All that stuff about what people are having for breakfast is just boring,” she says. “It’s really about letting people you want to do business with know you exist. “ Linking Twitter with business site LinkedIn, she’s constantly interacting with existing customers and new prospects and sees it as an essential business tool.
For the rest of us, it offers fleeting fun as often as you want. And here’s an unexpected upside – if you become a tweeter you’ll find yourself mostly amongst grownups – teenagers don’t like it much. One recent survey found only four percent of Twitter users are under 18. Average age: a nicely mellow 31. n
* This article appears in the Jan issue of Next magazine.
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