Want to know when your BFF is taking little Teacup out to potty? Or how long the line is at Starbucks? How about the traffic situation in Mt. Pleasant? Or the latest weather patterns heading toward the Lowcountry? You can find all of this out by simply agreeing to “follow” someone on Twitter. Though it might sound like a little more commitment than “friending” someone on Facebook, Twitter offers a shorter (140 characters max) and wider net than just to the 200 people you know on Facebook and it’s reshaping how we get updates on news, jobs, and traffic … oh, and Teacup’s bowel movements.
Twitter.com lets people send quick, up-to-the-minute updates to friends, family, and other “followers” simply by answering the question, “What are you doing right now?” Twitter’s growing popularity is tied directly to its diverse applications, says local webmaster Jared Smith.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach — there are so many ways to use it,” Smith says. “Twitter is one of the few social networks that gives you nearly total control over your experience.”
The chronicles of dog-walking may be of little use to anyone, but most use the site in other, more practical ways.
“Some use it as a networking tool — I’ve made so many wonderful professional contacts over Twitter,” Smith says. “Others use it to converse with local and national celebrities. Some follow a lot of news feeds and journalists and feed their addiction to information in near-real time. There’s no one true way to use Twitter; it’s a basic tool that can be melded to fit one’s needs. ”
The over-35 age group is the most common to use Twitter, says Smith.
“I think this has a lot to do with the fact that it got started with the tech blogger crowd, who are generally early adopters but also tend to be older,” Smith says. “Only in recent months, thanks to celebrities and prominent news organizations giving Twitter plenty of time, have the younger demographic — and, more importantly, their friends — really taken hold.”
The speed of the updates and general content makes it attractive to a variety of users, says Brain McGee, chair of the College of Charleston’s Communications Department.
“It doesn’t take up time, and it’s maintained quickly and effectively,” he says.
News and Networking
That speed has attracted many tweeters to use it as an uber-efficient breaking news source on current events and popular culture.
“It’s a wonderfully economic way to stay on top of events,” McGee says. “You can get a quick update on any topic in 140 characters or less.”
And the news doesn’t always come from the media. Web-guru Smith started a weather service via Twitter (@chswx) that gives updates on local storms and other hazards.
“Twitter proved to be a fitting opportunity for what’s been a pretty successful experiment,” he says. “This was well before the news stations had their meteorologists on Twitter, so this was definitely an untapped market. This is useful because Twitter permits people to send updates to their phone, and the type of information that chswx disseminates is of reasonable importance.”
Twitter has become a valuable tool for the business world as well, says Lyn Mettler, president of internet consulting firm Step Ahead.
“It is a good way to find prospective clients, network, and share information, and reach out to people in real time,” Mettler says. “It is not a tool for kids; it’s professional.”
McGee says Twitter has advanced the amount of communication between his department and students.
“Holding meetings and sending e-mails were the old way, and students would wait days or weeks to read them,” McGee says. “Now, we can update regularly to communications majors and push out updates on the college as they happen.”
CofC sophomore and budding actor Andrew Edahl says he started using Twitter to get more information on upcoming auditions and open casting opportunities, and now he uses it to keep in touch with friends.
“I thought of it as a great networking tool; a way for me to make more contacts in the acting world,” Edahl says. “Since most of my friends now have Twitter, it’s just become a tool for bringing us all together for a concert, dinner, or just a day at the beach.”
Plays Well With Others
Twitter’s emergence is also coming at the same time as a host of other internet-based applications. Edahl has a Twitter app for his iPhone and another one for his laptop.
“It’s just so simple popping up a window on either device, quickly typing what’s happening, and getting back to your life,” he says.
However, spam has found a new route in the twitterverse and constant updates can be an annoyance, Edahl says.
“I’ll occasionally be followed by three or four ‘people’ a day that are advertising services I just have no need for,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to block them — but it’s still an annoyance.”
Others just aren’t committing to the trend, McGee says.
“There are a huge number of people who try it for a month, and then stop,” he says. “They are usually not actively following other folks, and 140 characters is not appealing because it is not enough.”
Facebook’s status updates offers a little more freedom, including more space, says Mettler.
“There are more characters, you can add a photo or video right there, and you can comment on them directly,” she says.
But Twitter’s compact, fleeting nature is also part of its appeal for tweeters.
“Twitter happens all day every day. You can’t stay tuned in too much,” Mettler says.
Hey, City Paper Tweets:
@chascitypaper: Your main link to the paper
@ccpnews: Updates from the City Paper news desk
@cpeats: Foodie happenings from editor Steph Barna
@calendar_girl: Calendar Editor Erica Jackson on events around town
@cpjobs: Direct link to who’s hiring in Charleston
@cprentals: Connecting you to your next landlord
Seven Other Tweeters:
@cnnbrk: Breaking news from around the world from CNN, updated often
@aparas: Post and Courier cops reporter Andy Paras keeps one ear on the police radio
@katyperry: Budding pop icon tweets on touring
@cofc: Updates from the College of Charleston about school news
@chstweets: Local Twitter stats on what’s popular in Charleston
@rainnwilson: The Office star offers witty tweets on life
@greencharleston: Efficient posts on energy efficiency