Yesterday, while David and I were making our way thru Detroit Metro Airport heading for our departure gate, I noticed that Twitter was featured on the cover of the new issue of Time magazine. Seemingly overnight, the micro-blogging site has taken over the world and that fact is fortified by the fact that a publication like Time has taken notice. Here is the cover of the new issue of Time magazine along with a portion of the coverstory article:
The one thing you can say for certain about Twitter is that it makes a terrible first impression. You hear about this new service that lets you send 140-character updates to your “followers,” and you think, Why does the world need this, exactly? It’s not as if we were all sitting around four years ago scratching our heads and saying, “If only there were a technology that would allow me to send a message to my 50 friends, alerting them in real time about my choice of breakfast cereal.” I, too, was skeptical at first. I had met Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-creator, a couple of times in the dotcom ’90s when he was launching Blogger.com. Back then, what people worried about was the threat that blogging posed to our attention span, with telegraphic, two-paragraph blog posts replacing long-format articles and books. With Twitter, Williams was launching a communications platform that limited you to a couple of sentences at most. What was next? Software that let you send a single punctuation mark to describe your mood? And yet as millions of devotees have discovered, Twitter turns out to have unsuspected depth. In part this is because hearing about what your friends had for breakfast is actually more interesting than it sounds. The technology writer Clive Thompson calls this “ambient awareness”: by following these quick, abbreviated status reports from members of your extended social network, you get a strangely satisfying glimpse of their daily routines. We don’t think it at all moronic to start a phone call with a friend by asking how her day is going. Twitter gives you the same information without your even having to ask. The social warmth of all those stray details shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I think there is something even more profound in what has happened to Twitter over the past two years, something that says more about the culture that has embraced and expanded Twitter at such extraordinary speed. Yes, the breakfast-status updates turned out to be more interesting than we thought. But the key development with Twitter is how we’ve jury-rigged the system to do things that its creators never dreamed of. In short, the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to it.
I realize that once something “cool” reaches the masses in this way it immediately becomes “uncool” and starts its decline into oblivion … but I am such a fan of Twitter that I can’t help but love reading about it, getting other people to use it and use it myself. At first, I had no interest in using the service primarily because I knew less than 5 people who were on Twitter at this time last year (and none of them were my close friends). It seemed pointless to participate when there was no one to play with. Kay Hanley (@kayhanley) of Letters to Cleo blogged the praises of Twitter late last Summer and I thought I’d give it a try. By that point, there was a thriving community of Twitter users and I began to see the appeal. While detractors like to point out the seeming “pointlessness” of the medium, I only see the positives. Yes, it may be boring to hear about what people are having for breakfast … but that’s not all you get. You hear what other folks are tweeting about at concerts you cannot attend or while watching the same TV shows (or sporting events) that you are watching. The conversation is global … and you can be a part of it. You can contribute or you can just follow along. I run into funny or fun stuff all the time that I love sharing with my friends … usually by text message. Twitter allows one to share those fun things with anyone who’s interested anywhere in the world. I’m a big Twitter fan … you can follow me at @trentvanegas if you want … but even if you don’t, I strongly suggest those of you who have yet to check out the service to give it a try and join the conversation. I promise, it’s the most fun you can have in 140 characters or less.