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Hop on the Twitter bandwagon

Published: September 9, 2011
Section: Opinions


When you first heard about Twitter, you probably had the same reaction as I did: What in the world is that? First of all, who came up with the name Twitter? If I didn’t know any better, I would say Twitter was the name of the Pokemon that Squirtle evolved into (sorry Wartortle). Before I started using the website, I had to look it up to find the definition. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word twitter means “a series of short, high-pitched calls or sounds” or “idle or ignorant talk.” And usually, the term is used when discussing birds. Nevertheless, today, when people use the phrases “Twitter” or “tweeting,” they’re not identifying birds—they’re referring to the social media website that’s taken the world by storm recently.

I decided to give Twitter a try this past summer. I had resisted the urge to get sucked in, as it would be yet another social networking website to follow compulsively. Facebook was eating up enough of my time and I just didn’t have the time or energy for another website and commitment.

But one day I succumbed to the pressure and made myself an account. I admit I was nervous at first about having to craft a new identity for myself from scratch. I was anxious about starting fresh and recording all my preferences and favorite books and music. Fortunately, I was relieved when I logged in and saw that none of those formalities exist in the Twitterverse: no long bios that no one reads except you, no unnecessary paragraphs filled with every movie you’ve ever seen and no other unnecessary information. Twitter only featured three things: one picture (your Avatar), a line or two about yourself, and your “tweets.”

In the Twitter world, we’re all birds, and our tweets are how we communicate with each other and attract other birds to our nests. You have the option of making your Twitter account private or public. Most people opt to make it public for two reasons: Twitter does not provoke privacy controversies like Facebook does, since so little personal information is made available to others, and, if your account is public, it’s easier for people to follow you. On Twitter, the more followers you have, the flashier your account becomes. Less than 10 followers and you’re stuck interacting with the other chicks in the nest; once you get to 1,000 followers, you become something of a Twitter Overlord.

I’m still climbing up the Twitter ladder and I have a ways to go. If I ever make it to the top, I’ll be joined by the most followed people on Twitter—Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, who have 13 million and 12 million followers respectively. Combined, both of them have more followers than Australia has people.

The other component of tweets is the “hashtag.” You’ve probably seen a few words clumsily tossed in at the end of your friend’s Facebook status without any spaces next to a number sign and wondered what that was all about. Well, that’s a hashtag. Hashtags are useful for categorizing tweets based on their topics. If you were to tweet about how much you can’t wait until the next “Twilight” movie (and believe me lots of people do just that), you would put #Twilight at the end of the tweet. Then, if people were to click on the hashtag, they would be brought to a search that would demonstrate how many people had been discussing “Twilight” in the past 24 hours or so. And if enough people are tweeting about it, it would become a trending topic.

Besides organizing information, hashtags are also often used by savvy Tweeters to insert humor to tweets or add new information. For example, if you were to tweet something like: “I slipped and fell on my face this morning at the coffee shop,” you could add #likeaboss to enhance your tweet with humor.

But what exactly should you tweet about? That’s the beauty of Twitter. You can tweet about absolutely anything that you want. If you see something funny on the streets of Manhattan, you can tweet it. If the people at IHOP overcook your eggs, you can tweet it. If your wiffleball rolls down into the sewers, you can tweet it. If your dog chews up your remote control, you can tweet it. You don’t need a will or a reason—you simply express yourself in any way you want without fear of judgment.

When I first began using Twitter, I had no idea what to tweet, so I barely tweeted at all. But before long Twitter became an everyday activity for me. I began tweeting at work, on line at the deli and while driving (only at red lights, of course). There was a point where I tweeted a few hundred times in one day; literally every encounter, conversation or meaningful event that I had experienced I tweeted. I was like an eight year old with a brand new video game—I just couldn’t stop playing with it!

Since returning to college last week, I haven’t been as active on Twitter. This is in part because I haven’t had the time and in part because the novelty of the website has worn off. But while my Twitter usage has declined, for everyone else it has only expanded. According to The Huffington Post, the site currently has 190 million users (compared to Facebook’s 750 million). While Twitter cannot compare to Facebook in terms of popularity and usage, the two websites now have similar levels of awareness among the public. In a survey conducted by The HuffPost, 87 percent of Americans are now aware of the Twitter service, while 88 percent of Americans are aware of the Facebook service. In the past few years, terms like “Twitter” and “tweeting,” which nobody had even heard of five years ago, have become household names.

What is it about Twitter that makes it so appealing? Versatility, for one. You can use Twitter for anything you want—connecting with friends and family; staying up-to-date on news, weather or politics; meeting new people; interacting with celebrities; or just killing time at 4 in the morning. Some people feel the need to excessively tweet their every feeling, thought and idea—others only tweet when they feel it’s necessary; it is what you make of it.

And unlike with Facebook, which leads people to be self-conscious about how many likes or comments each of their statuses has received, Twitter does not have any such features.

By now you all must be giggling like a hyena at how crazy I sound praising this basic website and its notoriously primitive features (I think one of my friends compared Twitter to Neopets). But upon closer inspection, Twitter is an amazingly practical website (and nothing like Neopets). One thing that makes Twitter practical is that it limits your tweets to 140 characters. Although it is frustrating at times to narrow everything down, the 140-character limit is necessary to keep your tweets short and sweet.

The reason that Twitter has been surging of late is because of the number of high-profile individuals that are avid “Twitaholics.” Twitter is the only social networking website that offers individuals unlimited direct contact with celebrities. Pretty much every big-name star that you can think of, from Charlie Sheen to Ryan Seacrest, has an active Twitter account. Musicians use Twitter to promote their new music releases; actors to keep their supporters updated on all of their endeavors; and athletes to interact with their fans.

Slowly but surely, everyone is jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. Companies and businesses now print their Twitter usernames on business cards underneath their e-mail addresses and telephone numbers and news programs encourage viewers to follow them for news updates. Everyone seems to be using the service … except for college students. According to the Digital Buzz Blog, only 13 percent of Twitter’s users are between the ages of 18 and 25. I believe that number will swell in the next year or two though. The service that Twitter provides fits within our country’s changing landscape, especially for college students. It’s refreshing, it’s painless and, most of all, it’s simple.

I’m not saying that Twitter is going to replace Facebook. Or that Twitter is a more useful social networking platform than Facebook. But I do feel that Twitter is extremely practical and worth a try. But be warned—once you start tweeting, you may not be able to stop.