In November, when Barack Obama was elected U.S. president, there was an explosion of activity on Twitter, the social networking site. Makes sense: you don't get an event like that all that often.
No less than three million messages – they're called "tweets" – were sent by individual Twitter members on the day of the election, distributed to their various networks of contacts. To give you a sense of the significance of that figure, a busy day beforehand would involve about two million tweets.
But something remarkable has happened with Twitter in the last few weeks. Even though Twitter launched three years ago, the winter of 2009 is turning out to be the season of the tipping point for Twitter. (I'm tempted to call it a Twipping point, in line with some users' twerrible twendency of putting "tw" in front of pretty much anything about Twitter.)
Consider this. Growth became so steady in the fall that daily traffic in December began to routinely hit that three-million mark that seemed so remarkable on Obama's election.
There's more. Before January was out, daily loads climbed to four million. And they climbed again, reaching the five-million mark just in the last couple of weeks. Daily activity, in large part driven by the ease of using Twitter from PCs or mobiles, is now almost 70 per cent higher than those once-impressive peaks of Obama-mania.
Twitter, in other words, has gone mainstream … even though many people have never even tinkered with it.
If you're not on Twitter, don't feel isolated. Most people I know aren't, and quite a few don't want to be. But I think a lot of people could really benefit from Twitter, which is very much reworking how we communicate.
Why it resonates
Here's how it works. Famously, you have just 140 characters to say what's on your mind. With each post, you're asked, "What are you doing?"
I believe the question ought to be, "What have you been reading?" Or, perhaps, "What should people know?"
That's because Twitter resonates for me when I learn something, which is often. Sure, there's merit to the oft-told joke that a typical Twitter post runs something like, "I'm doing the laundry," but on a daily basis, I'm astounded by the range of things I pick up.
Every day, I'm directed to websites, blog postings, news articles, commentaries … a host of things. There's also a lot of humour; when you only have 140 characters, you understand why Shakespeare said brevity is the soul of wit.
I'm far from a Twitter veteran. In fact, I only got an account in January, after a Twitter news feed was set up for CBC's Newfoundland and Labrador website, where I work. I figured I might as well be part of the process.
I practically smacked myself when I realized how much fun I had been missing. I can see plenty of applications for my work, and have already incorporated into my daily routines. I use RSS feeds to keep up with all kinds of news sources (Google Reader remains a daily staple), but nothing beats Twitter for to-the-second connectedness.
So … what about you? Twitter is being used for dozens of reasons. Professionals use it for career development; marketing folks for networking; tech types for swapping tips and tricks. There's a group already for Newfoundlanders on Twitter. Journalists and writers like me, who crave information, are more than sated by Twitter.
In fact, you can be overwhelmed. That stream of information that gently floats by can turn into a bit of a torrent, especially as you pick up the knack for following the people who interest you.
To deal with this, I followed a friend's advice and installed TweetDeck, which smartly and easily lets me sift all that material into a variety of easy-to-digest streams. I set up groupings for close friends, colleagues and a couple of sorts for keywords I follow. Easy as pie.
I'm still feeling my way with Twitter. So, too, is the world; new applications seem to be coming out daily to handle the explosion of possibilities that Twitter is opening up. I'm really curious to see where things end up.
You can find me at twitter.com/johngushue, by the way. Look me up, and let me know what you think.