Sunday, March 1, 2009

Explaining Twitter in 140 characters or less - is it possible?

Good talk by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams on how Twitter evolved from the original idea of letting people share moments of their lives into something a lot more complex. Williams contends that although Twitter was initially designed as a broadcast medium, it's the users that ended up shaping the system into what it is today. Some of Twitter's current uses go far beyond the original idea of allowing people to stay connected and were completely unanticipated according to Williams.

I think that's one of the reasons many people have a hard time "getting" Twitter. Twitter is many things and continues to evolve in directions that are hard to anticipate - even by its co-founder. The ever-changing nature of Twitter means that we need to stay open to its many possibilities and that we can't just categorize it one way. It's another good example of what I talked about last week in a short guest post on the PRSA ComPRehension blog: the danger of static views of social media technologies. It's difficult to summarize what Twitter is all about. Imagine having to do so in true Twitter fashion: in 140 characters or less. I don't think I could do it. Could you? ABC tried to explain Twitter last week and they did a nice job but it took them 7 minutes to do so!

One other thing worth pointing out in this talk is the demonstration of Twitter as a backchanneling tool for presenters. We've seen it with Sarah Lacy's interview of Marc Zuckerberg at SXSW last year and we saw it again last night at the Texas Public Relations Association (TPRA) awards when comedian Sherry Belle offended her audience and was castigated in real-time on Twitter.

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