Another Cool Tool: Twitter

Twitter is one of those online tools that is a little hard to explain, but is addictive once you start using it.  It’s a free, web-based tool for microblogging–you can write posts up to 140 characters in length. Twitter asks the question, “What are you doing?” and Twitter users answer with short, simple answers. Here’s a nice video called “Twitter in Plain English”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o

Who I'm following on Twitter

Who I'm following on Twitter

Like many regular-length blogs, Twitter posts (which are called “tweets”) might be completely boring if you didn’t know the person. Who cares if somebody you don’t know is making a peanut butter sandwich in Akron, Ohio? However, if your best friend is making a spinach sandwich, that’s different, or if a writer whose work you admire is picking plums from a tree in California, that’s kind of fun to know too. If you set up a Twitter account (at http://twitter.com) you can search for people you know by name or location, and click the “Follow” button next to the profiles so that their tweets will automatically show up on your Twitter home page. Many news networks post their headlines in Twitter. I follow two news networks non-US just to get some variety in my news diet (The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera English).

Twitter has become wildly popular among social media geeks as well as other parts of the population.  I really like the capacity to post to Twitter from my cell phone–I can just send a text to the short number 40404. If I’m grading a pile of papers and want to blurt out, “I just graded 62 papers!” to the world at large, I can do so without going to my computer, opening a browser, and so on. And no one has to read it unless they’ve chosen to follow me on Twitter.

I think Twitter might be useful for college students because it allows you to maintain some contact with friends, as you would on Facebook, but it’s less distracting. It’s simple and quick and allows some of that real-time, up-to-the-minute kind of ongoing social contact you might get from an instant messenger service without being so intrusive.  A first-year student might want to reassure her parents that she’s surviving her first semester and studying hard; she could share her Twitter username with your folks and post quick messages like “3 hours at library, then great dinner of tofu stir-fry, pickled beets, and German chocolate cake,” or “B+ on math quiz!” or “My academic advisor looks just like George Clooney.” Of course, the same kind of safety and good sense you need to exercise in any public media are important. If you want to write really personal things, you might want to check the “protect my updates” option so only people you know can read them. Consider using an alias that doesn’t allow people to figure out who you really are, or maintain two profiles, one for your public self, and one that is anonymous.

There aren’t a lot of Twitter users here in Rindge, NH, but I wonder if it might be used productively at Franklin Pierce University students, faculty, and staff.  For instance, what if all of the hundreds of people who must be reading our summer reading program book right now, Three Cups of Tea, were noting their reactions and thoughts as they go through? That could add up to some interesting conversation, a window into the intellectual life of first year students, and a way for us to forge social bonds even before most us arrive on campus in the fall.  If you’re game, sign up for Twitter and follow mendhamt, and I’ll follow your posts, too. Let’s see what happens.

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