The Twitter Movement

by Brian Gilham on March 18, 2007

Twitter, the brainchild of Obvious, has been hailed as everything from “trivial and useless” to a “fun little tool,” and it has been making massive gains in popularity as of late. The site allows users to quickly and easily update their friends, and any other random contacts who may wish to follow them, on their activities using a web browser, IM, or text message.

Some people, however, have been scratching their heads, asking the question, “What is Twitter good for, anyway?” With the glut of IM programs, RSS feeds, blogs, chat clients, and e-mail, what place does Twitter have in the online world? Tyme White, ever ready to comment on the web’s changing landscape, has posed that very question over at 9rules and is gathering a steady stream of answers.

When I first heard about Twitter in 2006, the idea seemed fairly trivial to me. Like many people, I was having a hard time understanding why someone like Evan Williams would sink his time and money into something that seemed so, well, useless. But, with the recent surge in interest (thanks, largely, to SXSW), I decided to log into my old account and see what Twitter is all about.

Now, after four straight days of using the service, I’m hooked and I’m not quite sure why. For all intents and purposes, I have no practical use for Twitter. Few of my local friends use the service and I haven’t enabled any of the cellphone-specific features. No, my experience is much more internal. David Seah, a fellow newcomer to the service, explained it pretty well:

[..] it does do one thing very well: closeness through shared environmental context. A big part of friendship is just hanging out and doing things together without direct communication. You can learn a lot about someone by just watching what they’re doing; Twitter is a kind of virtual version of that.

By “Twittering” with your online contacts — fellow bloggers, friends, family, readers, etc. — you become part of a stream of consciousness, a global passing of notes. It may seem silly, but you really begin to feel a sense of community, as disconnected as the medium may seem.

A numb