All The World's a-Twitter

August 2007

I probably didn’t need to know that EvilMinx from Wisconsin is “working in a funk today.” But I did, thanks to his tweet that came to me courtesy of Twittervision.

Huh? You know about Twitter, right? No? Well where you been? It is, yawn, yet the latest thing in social networking. Why does something as silly as this get covered in Time magazine, the New York Times, and just about every other major media outlet?

Simply put, people who use Twitter typically answer the simple question, “What are you doing now?” in less than 140 characters. Their message, sent via cell phone text message, instant message, the Twitter web site, or an application, is then broadcast to one’s network of friends.

That message is called a “tweet.”  You can receive these on your phone, or via an application, or on the Twitter site.

A quick way — and quite fun —to get a glimpse of Twitter is to visit the Twittervision web site. You’ll find a map of the world, courtesy of Google Maps, and as tweets are sent out around the world, they appear on the map. That’s how I knew EvilMinx was working in a funk today. And here’s rinaz in Italy at10:30 p.m. “Am having dinner at napoli. Tiring day touring capri. Met a friend to see the volcano. Nite time tho. So cant see much.”

Each tweet appears for a few seconds in a balloon superimposed on the map, along with the person’s photo or icon and location. You can also see live cumulative worldwide tweets on the Twitter web site. This list is more comprehensive, since Twittervision only displays sent by people who have an image and location associated with their Twitter account.

Twitter is basically a means of broadcasting one’s text messages to a group, and presidential hopeful John Edwards is actually now using it to keep supporters informed of his travels. A person can choose whether to make his tweets public or only available to friends.

Once you sign up, you can invite your friends to join your network in order to receive your tweets. As I understand it, someone whose network you join is identified as your “friend.” And a “follower” is someone who’s joined your network.

According to Twitterholic (www.twitterholic.com), at this moment LouiZoot leads all Twitterers with about 30,000 friends and 3,000 followers.

Even more fun than Twittervision is Flickrvision — both developed by David Troy. Flickrvision again uses Google Maps, but in this case instead of tweets appearing on the map, photos from the Flickr web site appear as people upload them.

Flickrvision lets you look into various corners of the world — snapshots of friends and family, lovely nature photos, exotic landscapes — as people upload their photos to this most popular photo-sharing web site. With both Flickrvision and Twittervision, you can choose a 3D world view rather than a map view. I especially like viewing Flickrvision in this manner.

So give Twittervision and Flickrvision a try just for the novelty of it.

And since I have more space to fill, let me say a bit more about some interesting uses of Twitter and text messaging.

Some of you may not even know what a text message is. It’s sort of like a short e-mail message (140 characters or less) sent or received on your phone. Typically if whatever you need to communicate is short, it’s cheaper to send a text message than to call someone. Text messaging still hasn’t really caught on in a big way in the U.S. as it has in other countries, even among the young. But it’s growing.

Part of the Twitter phenomenon is its use by organizations such as Live Earth, which sends out daily tweets related to global warming giving tips about simple ways people can make an impact and help the environment. Another example is schools that are using text message broadcasting services as a quick way to reach parents. Send one text message and instantly it arrives on all their cell phones. One advantage of text messaging over group e-mail is that people are more likely to be near their cell phones than their computers. In the Philippines people used text messaging to organize a revolution that toppled the government in 2001.

The largest service for broadcasting text messages is SMS.ac, which has been around for a number of years and has over 50 million registered users.

Well, maybe it’s not silly after all, if tweets can help bring down a government.

© 2007 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen