The initial business plan must have seemed strange. “I’m going to build a system which allows people to communicate from all around the world, without restriction. Except that they will have no more than 140 characters to do it in”
When I first started using Twitter, I must confess I missed the point. I posted pointless updates about random annoyances, chatted to friends and used it as a way of asking my boyfriend what was for tea. Yes, in our house the man cooks. The woman owns her own hammer and screwdriver. We fight over who’s erecting the Ikea haul. Modern life.
Modern life, it turns out, can exist quite happily in 140 characters. I suddenly don’t need any more. It’s forced me to strip the irrelevant from my communications, teaching me, slowly but surely, the value of commas and sentence construction. As I accrued followers, I suddenly became aware of the potential annoyance factor of these little irrelevances and day to day tedium being thrown into a black hole for people to read. The focus switched. I became more restrained in the nature of my updates, trying to connect with people using hashtags, slowly realising the value of the individuals on the other end of the Twitter line.
Time passed. I still failed to quite see the point. Not that I wasn’t using Twitter, but I wasn’t using it to its full capability. I still chatted about pointless things, I didn’t search for interesting people to follow, I didn’t understand its point. It was a massively multiuser chat system of public conversations, and little more.
Then I went to a convention. A convention of geeks, in the main. I used the hashtag and through it found a community of others, also attending the convention, also commenting on their experiences and interactions. Some of those people I found through that hashtag are now becoming friends, people who I’ve connected with and who I can ask questions of and receive answers. The penny dropped.
140 characters is not a lot through which to get a sense of a person. It’s not a lot to portray yourself through, either. But the web is far bigger than Twitter, and so through links posted in my stream I can find out about live streaming of digital inclusion conferences, read about experienced professionals and their opinion of our digital infrastructure, discover other peoples social media strategies, take part in discussions through hashtags and learn from 1000’s of different people about the state of the world, right now. This second. Dynamic communication is finally here – public sharing of instant reactions, commentary and feedback. News is instant and available in a way it never was before.
So where am I now? What do I think the point of Twitter is now?
Connection. On a really fundamental level, Twitter connects people. People with the same interests, people with the same agendas, people studying the same courses, people asking the same questions, people fighting for the same cause. Twitter is about linking people, creating communities from nothing, breaching geographical restrictions and allowing us to finally share. You can still do nothing but post status updates in a manner similar to Facebook. That’s fine. But the level above that is a mass of information sharing, questioning, collaborating and connecting, and it’s value is immeasurable.
140 characters or less might finally be the restriction which removes all the other ones we’ve lived with for so long. Funny world, isn’t it.