Things I've learned on Twitter

[Cross-posted from BlogHer.]

As I convalesced this weekend from Day 9 of a terrible cold that just won't let go, the Thin Air Summit took place in Denver. Thanks to Twitter, I almost feel like I was there. I was tweet-reading in real-time. But you don't need to be there in the moment. A quick search for #tas08 on Twitter and you find a ton of posts. Tweets on sessions, tweets on insights, tweets on new acquaintances....

Last week I learned about the in-fighting (and quite often misogynistic) attacks from conservatives on Sarah Palin. #Palin was a trending topic after the election.

When Al Gore got onto Twitter, I saw it first on Twitter. [Update: Twitter has just changed @al_gore to @algore.]

Protests against California's Prop 8 I heard of first on Twitter.

And I found out that other people did not find True Blood tonight as much of a downer as I did. (Yeah, so it's a vampire show. Can't I have at least a little human kindness? Just a little?) When Tina Fey was going to be appearing on Saturday Night Live, I heard it first on Twitter and was able to set TiVo.

Now I'm sure that anybody reading this who hasn't actually tried Twitter probably has no idea what the heck I'm talking about. There are plenty of explanations of what Twitter is, but what strikes me as being important is less of what Twitter is and more of how Twitter is used.

Because you can follow whomever you want, you can listen just to tweets by people who interest you. Of course, as they tweet with others (using their Twitter handles) you can stumble across other people who also are interesting. Soon you have a metaphorical tree of Twitterers tweeting up a storm of miscellany that quite frequently can surprise you, astonish you, and inform you.

Twitter is as the Twitterer does

Some people seem to live on Twitter. For professional bloggers, Twitter becomes a way of building their online presence, connecting with others, sharing links, and picking up on things happening.

Me, I can't spend that kind of time Twittering the day away. But I don't consider Twitter to be simply a distraction. I learn too much from it. And I catch wind of things friends and acquaintances are doing elsewhere.

Heck, it's gotten to the point where people don't have names any more, they have Twitter handles!

Amber Rhea posts regular updates on what she's tweeted.

Earlier, in these pages, Beth Kanter (or @kanter) wrote about the importance of Twitter.

When I'm asked questions that I don't know the answer to, I admit it and use it as opportunity to demonstrate the value of the social brain or having a good network on Twitter. Unfortunately, I did not have my laptop accessible in that moment.

In reflection, I've been thinking about how much richer it is being social - how you don't have to know all the answers when you have a good network (and a decent Internet connection.) It made me think about another digital divide - for those who don't have the Internet connection or haven't yet engaged on Twitter - the knowledge divide.

Heck, in this age when, according to Wired, blogging is somehow no longer something to do, bloggers like Kristen Lowe are blogging about what they're seeing on Twitter.

Paal Hivand asked a question on Twitter this week, which had me thinking about a recent conversation on ... eh ... Twitter. Thing is, Paal said (in Norwegian) that he was contemplating an article about how knowledge used to be individual, but now is social. I'm not going to go into that statement, just offer this anectdotal evidence for how knowledge in some respects is easier available than ever before (click on the image for a readable version):

She then pastes a screenshot of a Twitter exchange....

I'd just jumped into a conversation between Adriana and Freecloud here - which started with the Albigensian crusade and ended with the Twitterian crusade - and it's also worth keeping in mind that we probably wouldn't be having this conversation if it wasn't for Twitter...

Amy Gahran's post a couple weeks ago illustrates how Twitter can even facilitate conversations among disparate people who may not know each other and likely don't even have each other's email address.

The Twitter Insurgency

The adoption of Twitter has been evolving over the weeks and months. Last spring, you would have been hard pressed to find dominant tweet topics outside of tech geekery, or the personal experiences of tech geeks. But by the time the general election was in full swing, politics had come into its own, with Sarah Palin (or #palin) frequently rising up in the topics. (The Next Women report that Barack Obama is the first presidential candidate -- and presidential elect -- to use Twitter.) Now you see a wider variety of topics, including sports, television and news events spreading across the tweetscape.

From the way things look now, it's only inevitable that the trend will continue. Unless you yourself are watching something happen right in front of you (or on live tv), odds are that the news will hit Twitter far sooner than it can get noticed, digested and spat out by the mainstream media.

In fact, the mainstream media have started to adopt Twitter as an important outlet. (And they haven't always been the smoothest about it. Witness the eruption over the Rocky Mountain News' live-Twitter coverage of a funeral.)

My favorite part of Twitter is still what I first got into it for last year: interesting insights:

@agahran. People don't know they care about the quality of writing, they just stop reading poorly written things. #tas08
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"Wasilla's all i saw" - a Palin-drome
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My 10-weeks-into-Twitter-world review: it feels... I don't know, *kinder*, than blog world. Less incentive for trolls, stalkers, etc.
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Friendster informs me that they now have faster slide shows. I can save even more time by continuing to not log in there.
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Of course, there are other views on Twitter....

“Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences,” according to the report.

“Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives,” the Army report said.

So if you do venture onto Twitter, watch out for those vegetarians.