Illustration: John Shakespeare
I'm sure you've heard plenty about Twitter. The media world is entirely enamoured with the microblogging service, and we sometimes forget that it isn't everyone's social network of choice. According to recent studies, however, most of us aren't actually on Twitter – or if we are we are barely using it.
I think Twitter is amazing. It's teensy limit means you can check and post to it within seconds, rather than skim read a 2000-word blog post or agonise over a paragraph-long Facebook update. The comparison with Facebook is a bit ill-advised, the two are really nothing alike. Here's why:
Get over yourself
If you haven't used it, Twitter sounds kind of stupid. You can broadcast updates of up to 140 characters – about two sentences – and we all hear about people constantly tweeting their breakfasts. Now, there are plenty of people on Twitter who just use it to talk about their boring lives, but much of what makes Twitter great is the "conversation", rather than just the bragging. The people who tweet only about themselves either lead interesting lives worth reading about or aren't worth following. Twitter is much more decoupled from your everyday real life than Facebook. Instead of tweeting your breakfast, you might tweet your thoughts on a current event, or even better, retweet someone much smarter than yourself. For some reason, people think being on Twitter means they have to tweet regularly: you don't at all. Using Twitter to listen is absolutely fine.
Twitter is really, really, really fast. Every journalist in existence is on there, often eager to tweet/broadcast stories before they've made it to their respective outlets. As soon as an event occurs, the news spreads rapidly, followed by real time analysis and contextual information. Much of this is armchair analysis, but many of the world's leading experts are on Twitter too. If you like being the first to know, and the first to have an informed opinion, Twitter is your go-to. Just follow your favourite outlets and journalists, they are usually easy to find.
Since you pick your own diet of Twitter news, you can shape a much more refined model of news than the mainstream media offers. Whichever field you are interested or employed in, leaders within that field are probably on Twitter, discussing developments at a level of detail that would never reach a mainstream paper. I'm interested in technology and US politics to a ludicrous degree, so my Twitter is constantly blowing up with events that wouldn't be worthy of a mention in more generalised press. Why wait for a monthly trade magazine when you can keep up in real-time?
Above all, Twitter is often hilarious. I laugh at my Twitter stream more than I laugh at Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, or any other site that tries to dispense humour. Sure, not everyone can tell a great joke, but users such as @RobDelaney, @dril, and @dataisplural prove how surreally funny brevity can be.