A couple of weeks back I couldn’t stop blabbering about how twitter had helped me attend an expensive conference for free, without the boredom and awkward moments when you really need to use the washrooms but can’t because you just did it a few minutes before and are damn sure someone is keeping count. A friend of mine, after suffering my droning on and on about this Twitter thing, stopped me on my tracks and asked, ‘What exactly is twitter?’

My friend had heard enough about Twitter, and had even taken time to pay it a visit several times. All he could fathom though was that it was a social media ‘thingie’ that limited entries to 140 characters. “140 characters!? That’s like SMS!!” Before I even responded to this outburst, he went ahead and asked, “I mean, what’s the point of Twitter exactly?”

Now my friend is not a daft man. As a matter of fact, he is quite bright in matters not Twitter related. He reminds me of Daniel Lyons from Newsweek who seems to be exasperated by the latest trends in web innovations, Twitter included. Daniel joined Twitter as he says, ‘mostly because if I didn’t get on Twitter I’d look like someone who doesn’t “get it,” and goes on to say that ‘…it is mostly pointless’.

I think Twitter is misunderstood, and I probably should blame it on the communications people at Twitter and whoever else is responsible for communicating new web innovations to the world. They have done very little to sell the Twitter concept to non-techies. Take a quick scan of internet buzz about Twitter and its all jargon after jargon.

Anyway, enough ranting. Let’s start with what Twitter isn’t.

Unlike other innovations such as Facebook and MySpace, Twitter is not a Social Networking tool. You don’t go to Twitter to look for new friends (although you will definitely get some if you want). You don’t go to twitter to rave about your overbearing boss (although you can if you want)! And here is the most important part in my opinion; You don’t go to Twitter to pass time (most likely you will get really bored after 2 minutes anyway)!!

Now here is what Twitter is.

Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter says that it is ‘an information network’. Let me add that Twitter is a very special information network because unlike your typical informational platform that is plastered with pages and pages of content you probably don’t care much about, Twitter ‘… tells people what they care about as it is happening in the world’. That’s probably the best possible description of Twitter, and thankfully it comes from Evan himself.

By limiting entries to only 140 characters, Twitter ensures that only the ‘best and freshest’ information is posted. Thus in my case last week, I could see updated posts of the conference by the minute as it happened. Not the useless back and forth but only the relevant updates on questions, answers and main points from the presentations and round tables. Chances are I gained more than some people who paid thousands to attend that conference, plus I got to finish my other tasks!

Think of it this way. You kindly ask your secretary (or a friend, or colleague) to attend a conference on your behalf because for some reason you can’t attend it. As she writes her notes down on her notebook, you can see them real time every time she hits 140 characters. If you have a question to ask, you post it on your notebook, and she sees it as soon as you hit 140 characters, asks the question for you, and posts the answers back on her notebook from where you can read them, within minutes.

Apply this concept to other scenarios such as campaigning, product promotions, surveys, proceedings in events such as court cases, education, and catastrophes’ such as the Haiti Earthquake etc. If you can form an analogy in your area of specialty, then you probably understand Twitter better now.

What are the rules?

Twitter doesn’t really have rules, only norms, most of which come up from the user community. Special symbols include the ‘#’ which puts your tweet in the category named after what comes after the hash. Thus if someone searches for the word ‘sweet’, and you have ‘#sweet’ in your tweet, then they will see your tweet in the results. The ‘@’ is used to denote a reply to someone else, much like what you see people using in Facebook. Thus ‘@timothy’ means my tweet is a reply to timothy. A DM is a direct message to someone who is following you and will show up in their profile. Finally the RT means you re-tweet what someone else has tweeted because you find it noteworthy. See? As simple as that.

How does this help anyone?

If you are still asking this question, you are probably better off without Twitter. But if you really want to know more about Twitter, how about starting with their Wikipedia page? Just skip the jargon and try to get the big picture and you’ll be fine.

Meanwhile, let me see how I can reach Evan Williams and ask him to sack all his Corporate Communication executives.


  1. 1 fabio March 16, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I haven’t used twitter so far, but I guess in future there won’t be a successfull website without facebook, twitter and google.

  2. 2 Jame Burngasser December 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Very nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing
    your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed
    and I am hoping you write again soon!

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