Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Top Web Tools of 2007 - Number 8

Twitter makes an appearance on my year-end list even though I am not (yet) a heavy user. I continue to be drawn to it as a potentially powerful communications tool, and also as a very interesting experiment in how people connect and communicate in ways that didn't exist until fairly recently.

Explaining Twitter to newbies is often an exercise in futility. Try calling it "microblogging" and see how far that gets you. To my mind (others will disagree, perhaps vociferously), Twitter is much like cell phone text messaging, but on the computer (or other connected device) rather than the phone (actually, you can also use a phone, except for T-Mobile customers) and one-to-many rather than one-to-one (or one-to-few). You are limited to 140 characters per message, so you learn to be brief and to the point.

You (or at least the experienced Twits) can tell that I am not a power user in a couple of ways: 1) I've only sent 53 messages (tweets) from my account so far which is a normal afternoon for many people, and 2) the lists of people following me (13) and that I am following (17) are quite short. So far this has been more of a way to keep up with what some others are doing since I am mainly following people I respect who work in educational technology and most of my Twitter screen time is spent reading the messages of others rather than writing my own. I have no doubt that my use of Twitter will increase as I continue to get more of my co-workers using it as well.

So, how is it being used? a) some people ask questions of their network seeking advice, resources, links, or ideas, b) some tell people what flavor of coffee they just ordered or some other complete waste of trivia such as that, c) some talk about what they're working on, such as what their latest blog post is about or what question they are researching, d) and some use it for very specialized purposes that are related to their jobs or personal lives. In one example that I found today (via Twitter no less) for younger kids, Mr. Mayo has them writing a story from around the globe, 140 characters at a a time. Here is the Google doc where their tweets are being pieced together into a story.

Twitter has also burst onto the political scene. John Edwards currently has 4,011 followers on Twitter. Probably not enough votes to win the nomination. Barack Obama has 5,945 followers (remember these numbers chance constantly, much like poll numbers do). Joe Biden has 106 followers, so maybe that's a message in and of itself that he should be hearing loud and clear. Hillary is apparently trying hard not to be a twit (no Twitter account) - maybe that is why she is falling in the polls.

Richard MacManus of the ReadWriteWeb has a good post detailing why they chose Twitter as their Best Web LittleCo (small company) of 2007.

Alan Lew has a very nice blog post with some ideas and links for using Twitter in higher ed, so I'll just defer to his expertise and call it a day. See, having a good network can really be a time saver.

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