I just joined Twitter -- the site where people post messages at no more than 140 characters at a time. You can follow me here.
Lest you think I am being immature for doing something called tweeting, here is a list of some notable people who are tweeting and retweeting: Suzy and Jack Welch, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven B. Johnson (author of Everything Bad is Good for You, an interesting book), Penn Jillette, Freakonomics, The Wall Street Journal, The Onion, The New York Times and ... enough name dropping. Lots of people are on Twitter.
And, these famous people frequently write about how great Twitter is. The Welches published a very interesting article on their Tweeting story in BusinessWeek. Steven B. Johnson also wrote a great article about Twitter that appeared as the cover story for last week's Time magazine. I discovered both of these pieces after I decided to write on Twitter.
Contrary to my stereotype of teenage girls sending texts between giggles, Twitter has been attracting smart, interesting and diverse people. This begs the question: Why do smart people use Twitter?
In short, Twitter has many uses and there is at least one use for everyone. Is there one for you? Almost surely.
The Many Uses of Twitter: Twitter sounds like something that middle-school girls do when they get nervous, but it really does have some legitimate uses. What are some of these more-respectable uses of Twitter? I tackle this question group-by-group:
Senators and Representatives. Republican representatives Twittering during Obama's speech generated controversy a couple of months back. You may think it was childish of them to comment on his speech while he was giving it, but can you imagine a faster or more effective way to publicly respond to Obama's speech?
While watching the televised speech, I am sure that constituents wanted to know where their representative stood on what was being said. Twitter allowed them to communicate that information immediately. That sounds like a public service to me, especially when keeping tabs on your representative is difficult.
For our representatives in Washington, Twitter is a fast way to inform constituents of the goings-on and important upcoming legislation. For constituents, it is an unobtrusive way to keep up-to-date on your representative's thoughts and purported actions. That's a win-win situation.
News organizations. News naturally finds a home on Twitter. Most people use Twitter as a social news conduit. They read articles and post links to these articles on Twitter for their friends and their "following" to read. Sure, many of these people are not "real friends," but there is no denying that social news (sharing what you read with others of a similar bent) is becoming ever more popular.
In vetting the stories of interest, social news networks like Twitter, Digg or The Windy Citizen are surprisingly efficient at delivering the right kind of news. By the "right kind of news," I mean that these social news sites are delivering reasonably balanced information and directing more eyes to more important news. Journalism is turning inside-out, but social news media is reshapinig journalism in a good way.
Authors, public figures, celebrities. Authors can inform readers of upcoming events, speeches or public appearances. Public figures and celebrities use Twitter to manage fame without getting too close to the fans who want to know their celebrities' thoughts.
You. No matter what use you find for Twitter, there is a use for everyone, not just the rich and famous. You can follow your favorite (or least favorite) senator or celebrity. You can read and share your favorite types of news with other like-minded people. You can share random thoughts with your friends. You can even get home inspiration ideas or recipe suggestions or political opinions directed to your twitter feed.
So, what's in it for you and me? I can't help but give a shameless plug for following me on Twitter. If you like my blog, it is a great way to get regular updates. Moreover, I see four reasons why it would be good for both of us for you to start tweeting:
1. Blog updates. I link to all of my blog articles on Twitter. Following me on Twitter automatically signs you up for theses links to my blog. That way you won't have to remember that hideously long url at the top of the page.
2. News "tweets." I have been reading some interesting news. If I find a particularly interesting story, I link to it with a short comment about why it is cool. If you want to read news stories that I have been reading, this is a good way to tag along.
3. Other followers. Twitter allows you to see who else is following me. If you like what I have to say and so do my other followers, you have at least one thing in common. That could lead to interesting conversation. It's like a club for fun economics conversation.
4. Tell your friends. If you like (hate) something I write, Twitter makes it easy for you to tell your friends. Just "retweet" my post, saying how wonderful (terrible) my post is. A link to my post shows up in your profile where all of your friends can read it (once you convince them to join Twitter).
I can only scrape the surface of the reasons to use Twitter. You really should explore their site and some "tweet feeds" to see what is so great about it. I'm confident you will find some reason to join Twitter. Do you follow?
Helpful hint: If you decide to join Twitter, register at http://www.wefollow.com/. This is a directory of Twitter users, which you can browse to figure out who you would like to follow. I have found a very diverse and thought-provoking set of Twitterers whom I now follow because I found this directory.