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Twitter: A Microblogging Review

Twitter provides constant, accessible stream of information

By Christina Edwards

November 21, 2008

There’s no such thing as too rapid when it comes to information, at least for the three million plus users on Twitter.

Twitter is a free microblogging service that launched on the Web in 2006. Messages posted are 140 characters or less, which provides a constant stream of short informational updates. Users range from news organizations such as CNN, to bloggers and the average citizen keeping friends and family updated easily.

“With its requirement for people to squeeze their thoughts into 140 characters or less, Twitter is a perfect tool for a fast-paced, mobile society,” said Janna Anderson, director of a research project called Imagining the Internet. “Compressed information fits and it offers quick-hitting details we can apply to our lives. Most of the early adopters using Twitter to communicate today are writing on the road, from conferences, sales calls and other mobile situations in which they want to share tightly written information chunks. It first caught on at the South By Southwest media conference in Austin, Texas, just a couple of years ago. It has since been used by political campaigns, businesses and media organizations to quickly brief people on developing situation.”

As someone fairly familiar with the Internet world of information, I’ve only had a marginal experience with Twitter, having seen updates streamed on blogs. I signed up for an account and started exploring.


The Accesiblity Factor

Twitter is free and takes just a few minutes to set up. All that’s required is an email and a password, so Twitter gets automatic points for the easy sign up process. At the same time, anyone can sign up, which comes with the implications of an unfiltered “news” stream.

Posting a message is easy, too: the textbox is at the top of the page. It also counts how many characters used as you type. Simple.

Searching for news feeds to follow becomes a little more difficult. When you enter in a search term, the engine brings up every message containing the terms. The advanced search option allows you to specify whether you are searching words or conversations or places. Searching for specific users is not easily accessible.

How Informative Is It?

How informative Twitter is depends on how often a newsfeed is updated. Updates can happen constantly. I decided to “follow” the US World and News Report, BBC, and the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, over a course of four hours, updated constantly, providing news every few minutes.

The pertinence of the information, however, is another matter entirely. Over the same four hours, the most talked about subject was the new Twilight movie—on the same day Hillary Clinton said she would accept a Secretary of State nomination.

The Format

Twitter is formatted to be unintimidating. The layout of the actual site can be chosen by the user: the choices are reminiscent of personal blogging platform Livejournal. This doesn’t have to be a stuffy, professional news atmosphere to getting information: a plus for civilian accessibility, but slightly off-putting to the professional.

The stream of news feeding on the home page is both immediate enough to appeal to those searching for constant information and comforting to those more used to Facebook status updates.

Overall

Twitter is an effective means of communicating short messages in a more than timely manner. But I’m not yet convinced that it’s the future of information: it’s shallowly informative. And currently, finding real information is like sifting through soil to find gems.

My Twitter feed, as I set up my account.

Timeline of Online Journalism