Why is Twitter so IMPORTANT????

Posted on May 20, 2010


Twitter presentation Laura

Tweetilie Dee: What’s So Important About Twitter?  How a Small 140 Word Text has Such a High Impact in our Society


            Many people sneak tweets off at school, work, home, or in transit to some location.  More people “do it” then you would believe.  Statistics from a 2009 Twitter Tally, which was accessed on Emarketer.com on May 31, 2009, “14 million” people use Twitter, and that number is expected to influx by another four million in one year “(Logar 3).  The program has received bad publicity as being “narcissistic” and “voyeuristic” in nature (Morris Ch 9).  Many people who choose not to Twitter define the experience as being a run down on what happens in a person’s day-including where they eat and how much they worked out at the gym.  Unfortunately, the program has been perceived by certain groups as a big waste of time and is only intended for people who want to be focused on and receive focus from a large audience.  In my paper, it will blow away the past stereotypes of what Twitter has been falsely defined as, plus my paper will look towards the future of what Twitter can be and how it is an essential part of our society today.

            Twitter did not instantly catch on.  The website took a while to catch the attention of the World Wide Web.  Andrea Crewson who wrote, Taming the Twitter Firehouse, explains that, “Twitter, an online message service that limits posts to 140 characters, began in 2006, created by Obvious Corp., run by Evan Williams and Biz Stone. It received little mainstream attention until 2007” (Crewson 3).  The program had very little attention until a PhD student wrote a guide to Twitter in March of the same year, “Ph.D. student in Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, wrote a post

called “The 12-Minute Definitive Guide to Twitter” on the AOL Developer Network” (Crewson 3).  What truly set Twitter onto the World Wide Web was celebrity usage such as Ellen Degenerise, Ashton Kutcher and now Oprah.  Twitter had a huge influx of users after Oprah had a show on how to set up a Twitter account.  Business has used Twitter for years for staying connected and asking coworkers quick, direct questions at the job site.  These businesses are now trying to tap into Twitter’s potential and take the small program into a new era of business community.  Why does a text which contains only 140 words attract such a huge following?  Tee Morris, author of All a Twitter, tries to put Twitter’s fame into prospective,

            The 140-character limitation is also Twitter’s strongest attribute because it forces             you to avoid going on tangents, long-winded replies, and other tendencies that   happens with other IM applications. Hours of chatter on true IMs are gone,     provided you are using Twitter correctly. Speak your peace in 140 characters or    less, return to your previous work, and if you     are alerted to a reply or a series          of replies, it is your option to reply. In an             IM Chat, whether it is you and another    or a conference call, the conversation is driven by instantaneous, continuous             communication. By design, Twitter is not meant to be a timesink. (Morris Ch 1)

The program forces the writer to make their point quickly.  In today’s society, where there is a constant flow of conversation, Twitter pushes the writer to be direct.  In any setting- social, business or educational, getting to the point can be a time saving device.  Not only does Twitter save time, but also some of the tools used with Twitter expand and promote more community effervescence.

            Twitter was a great tool to start with on getting communities to discuss ideas on line, but one aspect of the Twitter universe was a hindrance not a help.  When a person would comment on a Tweet the Tweeted had to click refresh for each responding tweet.  If you have a following (one point of reference, followers are people who have decided to follow all tweets that you write on Twitter) of 100 people, clicking refresh would be a huge finger cramp!  Twitter’s creators decided that Twitter was a community of users and it should be up to the community to fix the problem.  Tee Morris explains,

            Twitter’s developers considered this, and released into the wilds of the Internet    some of Twitter’s protocols, inviting other programmers to create their own        Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) particular to the demands of Twitter.        The end results were innovative third-party applications that brought Twitter to a higher level of performance. (Morris Ch 2)

The higher level of performance included instant responses to Tweets and a running log of who you were Tweeting to, no longer did the Tweeter need to push refresh.  Different third party applications came out, all with different ways of using Twitter. There are still new applications coming out, but I will discuss two of the more famous third party apps.  Twitterific (Free download, with an optional USD$14.95 registration for an “advertise- ment-free.” version, available at http://iconfactory.com/software /twitterrific/), created by The Iconfactory, is a quick to install and easy-to-run Mac-based client that brings the content of your Twitter account to you. Within minutes you can set up your Twitterific to be running in the corner of your desktop—your network’s tweets, replies, and direct messages all coming to you without having to press Command-R on your keyboard once.  DestroyTwitter (http://destroytoday.com/projects/destroytwitter) started on January 1, 2009, and launched the year with an aggressive bang. Developed by Jonnie Hallman, he came up with the name from his own mantra of “destroying today.” In his own words, he explains, “To destroy today is to make the most of the day—destruction as a form of creation. This is my carpe diem.”(Morris Ch 2)  Both programs have great applications and some not so pleasant problems, but one of the newer apps, Twitterific uses parts from both apps to create a newer, easier to use application that both PC and Mac users can use.  The creator of Twitter has continued the tradition of keeping Twitter community based by allowing users to create these applications, by allowing his users to direct content.

            Some of the smaller, but also just as important tools are Mr.Tweet, Is.gd, WordPress Tweet kit, TwitPic and Bit.ly.  Mr. Tweet (http://mrtweet.net) is especially important to business users of Twitter.  Mr. Tweet follows users who have similar likes and dislikes as you and recommends that you follow them.  Morris states, “Based on what you tweet and who is already in your network, Mr. Tweet heads out into the Twitterverse and finds other Twitters that share opinions, likes, and interests. It’s your on-call specialist dedicated to making your Twitter better, stronger, faster” (Morris Ch 4).  Is.gd (http://is.gd/) takes a long URL which could take up all of your 140 word space and converts a long URL to a short URL Link.  WordPress http://wordpress. org)  is the largest online Blog site and it work with Twitter to link it to any WordPress blog, plus it attaches a Tweet kit.  The Tweet kit will attach other tool from your Twitter and allow people on your blog or twitter to follow both.  TwitPic (http://twitpic.com) is the same as Flickr which it stores your pictures.  Bit.ly (http://bit.ly/) is a Twitter tracking device that will not only track how many times people tweet you but also it tracks all the times people open your links on Twitter.  Twitter is much more than the 140 word text it started as in the beginning.  Now, that Twitter is a community mega machine, who is actually using it?

            Looking at who is using Twitter today, Sysomos Inc. created, Inside Twitter; An In-Depth Look Inside the Twitter World (a survey) to inform businesses who, where and when are people using Twitter.  Does Twitter have an impact?  Who is using it?

            Sysomos Inc., one of the world’s leading social media analytics                               companies, conducted an extensive study to document Twitter’s growth and how         people are using it. After analyzing information disclosed on 11.5 million Twitters         accounts, we discovered that:

  • 72.5% of all users joining during the first five months of 2009.
  • 85.3% of all Twitter users post less than one update/day
  • 21% of users have never posted a Tweet
  • New York has the most Twitters users, followed by Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco and Boston; while Detroit was the fast-growing city over the first five months of 2009
  • More than 50% of all updates are published using tools – mobile and Web-based – other than Twitter.com. TweetDeck is the most popular non-Twitter.com tool with 19.7% market share.
  • There are more women on Twitter (53%) than men (47%)

(Sysomos 2)

Sysomos wanted to take an extensive snapshot of Twitter to document it’s growth and demographics.  They wanted to look at how people use Twitter, as well as identify many of the key trends in their backgrounds, demographics and activity.  Their study began in 2009 at the beginning of the year.  Why did sign up for Twitter rise 72.5% at the beginning of the year?   In March, Twitter started to attract significant media attention after Compete.com reported that the number of Twitter users had skyrocketed in February.  In April, Twitter’s profile was enhanced when Ashton Krutcher (aka @aplusk) waged a public race against CNN to be the first to have one million followers. Then, on April 17, talk show celebrity Oprah Winfrey (aka @oprah) started using Twitter (Sysomos 3).

Twitter age demographics were based on a sample set of users who disclosed their age, 65% of Twitter users are under the age of 25. Only 0.7% of users disclosed their age, with younger users showing a higher probability of doing so. Still, the statistics suggest Twitter is growing in popularity among younger people.

Even though most people believe Twitter is only used by young adults, the study showers older users are on Twitter as well.  Sysomos also found that people felt more responseable for tweeting if they had a larger following.  Tweeters felt that they let their followers down if they did not keep up with their tweeting.

These findings are base on the overall Twitter community, but many companies are also tweeting.  Fortune 500 magazine did a longitudinal study on how much blogging and tweeting the largest companies in our society are doing. The research builds on the Center’s work (Financial Institute) since 2007 examining social media in a variety of organizations including the Inc. 500, US colleges and universities and the Forbes list of the 200 largest charities. (http://www.umassd.edu/cmr )The Fortune 500 (F500) list includes publicly and privately held companies for which revenues are publicly available. One hundred and seventy-three (35%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 has a Twitter account with a post within the past thirty days.

Of these companies, four of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and General Electric) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. The number one ranked company, Exxon Mobil, did not have a Twitter account at the time (Barnes and Madison 2).  Rank appears to influence the use of Twitter by the 2009 Fortune 500. Of the top 100 companies on the list, “47 have a Twitter account. Of the group listed 101-200, 35 have a Twitter account” (Barnes and Madison 4). Those listed, “201-300 have 30, 301-400 have 28 and 401-500 have 33 Twitter accounts” (Barnes and Madison 3). Of the 173 twitter accounts that fit the definition for this study, “47% of them belong to Fortune 500 companies listed in the top 200 while 35% come from those listed in the bottom 200 (201-500) on the 2009 list” (Barnes and Madison 4).  The companies on the top obviously see the potential in Twitter.  A study done by Kate Ehrlich, N. Sadat Shami called, Microblogging Inside and Outside the Workplace, focused on how people use Twitter at work and outside of it.  The study showed people use Twitter at work to send direct, quick questions and ideas and at home they use it for personnel usage.  Below are two responses from workers on how they use Twitter,

            “As far as Twitter is concerned the value is two-fold:

            learning much of what is happening in the marketplace,

            picking up trends, and picking up news… get a lot of news

            items earlier that way than any other way…”


            While another said:

            “Twitter is for early breaking news. I get to know

            what’s happening. When there is something new from

            Google, I get to know quickly.” (Ehrlich and Shami 5)


The study used not only Twitter but Blue Tweet, which allows 240 words compared to Twitters 140.  The study found that office workers used Blue Tweet rarely compared to Twitter.  Many commented that they found Twitter to “be enough words” and to not need the extra 100 (Ehrlich and Shami 12).  Most users found that having one identity on Twitter for work and one for home worked best to keep both personalities separate.  Out of the study, I found this information the most interesting, since our characteristics as humans cause our behaviors to be different at home, so as we need another account.

            Business usage is also comparable to celebrity usage on Twitter.  One groups study, Characterizing Microblogs with Topic Models, which looks at how many words are used by average Joes and celebrities.  Investigated by Daniel Ramage, Susan Dumais and Dan Liebling cross reference Oprah’s account with another user.  Below is a word map of usage,













Figure 2: 4S analysis of two users: @w3c (left) and @oprah (right). The usage of dimensions from substance (top row), status (second), social (third), or style (bottom) categories is shown in the vertical bars, with Twitter’s average usage shown in the center. Common words in selected dimensions from each category are shown as word clouds. Word size is proportional to frequency in that dimension globally, and word shade is proportional to the frequency in the user’s recent tweets. Light gray words are unused in recent tweets.


The study shows that regular users on Twitter use more figurative language and customized words.  The celebrity possibly does not really comment on Twitter but has a ghost Twitter.  Ghost twitter is a machine or person who comments on Twitter like they are the person, but as new studies come out mapping word usage, more people will know the fakes from the real people on Twitter.  There is a group held higher then celebrities online called weblebrities as described by Tee Morris,

            What makes a weblebrity? First off, what exactly is a weblebrity? People like         Robert Scoble, iJustine, Cali Lewis, and Twitter creators Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone would be considered weblebrities. Some people like Leo          LaPorte and Felicia Day would be considered “crossover weblebrities” because         they have appeared on television or worked with A-List producers, directors, and     actors. (Morris Ch 12)

They are people who have created the environment we use on the internet and yes they are on Twitter.  The Twitter community holds them to a higher netiquette for creating the webiverse and expects them not to use ghost writers.  Morris finds that many are over-joyed to be tweeted by a weblebrities; it is the ultimate recognition in their eyes.  One celebrity actually helped on twitter, Demi Moore.  She received a Tweet from a woman, who said she was going to kill herself.  Moore got on the phone and told officers the location of the women and saved her, although certain celebs abuse the Twitterverse by making it a race for popularity.  The most famous is The Ellen Show, which used Twitter to compile as many followers as possible by offering rewards on Twitter.  The Twitterverse can be used for educational purposes as well.

            In New New Media by Paul Levinson, he discusses how Twitter can be used to create a positive path in education. 

            Twitter takes the classroom to a global level. Although it is not without precedent

            in media—chat rooms and private IM’s also swing between mass and        interpersonal communication—Twitter is a chat room, classroom, or gathering       that goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And although the messages on    Twitter can certainly be educational, it is the communication structure of the         classroom, not its content, which is catapulted into a worldwide conversation on             Twitter. (Levinson 136)

A way to be always connected to your students, this can excited some but cause terror in other teachers. Twitter can expand the classroom communication structure in new ways, making group-to-individual communication as easy as individual-to-group.  Classes of all sizes and purpose can send out tweets to larger groups, such as, “

Fox News and CNN which offer live tickers of news stories, political campaigns for president and all manner of positions, and groups devoted to a particular cause or social purpose, such as TwitterMoms, which helped mobilize opposition to Facebook’s ban on photos of breastfeeding” (Levinson 136).  Twitter can be used to mobilize a classroom and to inquire into the world out large.  Instead of seeing the classroom as a one dimensional box; the classroom can now be the starting point to so much more.  A teacher could use tweeting to update what she did per class, per day.  Students could answer individual questions on the teacher’s Twitter.  The teacher could also go to student sites and respond to their posting as well.  Levinson see Twitter as making the internet experience “organic” in nature,

            The automatic sending to Twitter (via applications or “apps”) of links to anything

            and everything on the Web—blog posts, videos, news stories, the full gamut

            of new and new new media—and the instantly subsequent, automatic relay of

            these tweets to Facebook and “meta” new new systems such as FriendFeed

            (“meta” because their content consists of links from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

            and other new new media activity) constitute a self-perpetuating, not entirely

            planned, expanding network that has much in common with living organisms

            and evolutionary systemspage. (Levinson 136).

Levinson not only sees twitter as an “organic” extension of self but almost a piece of us like jewelry.  Not only does Twitter allow us to be seen by a larger community, but ideas, thoughts, and feelings are broadcasted to all.  The author discusses how in the late 1970’s people were beginning to imagine the online communities that could be possible with computers.

            Back in 1970, when the personal computer revolution was more than a decade   away, Gary Gumpert wrote about “the rise of mini-comm.” He was talking about             how people could “broadcast” their own personal messages, or messages       tailored to their views and feelings, via words printed on their T-shirts, sweatshirts    and other clothing.  As in all of its improvements in the printed realm, personal        and political messages in the digital age—via updates on new new media such             as Twitter—do the “minicomm” one big step better, by allowing any words to   be “printed” or published worldwide instantly, re-tweeted or RT’d by          receivers to    their Followers, and then revised or changed a split second      later, with a new       “tweet,” if the writer so desires. (Levinson 137)

Even with our last election of President Obama, he used Twitter to document his campaign and his Twitter was linked to his campaign site and blog.  Twitter truly showed its power in his election since he is one of the first presidents to receive so much individual help from sponsors during his campaign.  What it means is that politics are beginning to be paid for by the average joe.   How we tweet and who is tweeting is becoming an important realization in our society, enough so that businesses have become concerned with their employees tweeting.  What about the other side?  What about the people who say tweeting is but a passing fancy? 

            A study was done on professors in Faculty Focus (a magazine directed towards educators), where they surveyed faculty on their usage of Twitter.  The study looked at how many professors use it and ask why? Some don’t.  The Faculty Focus survey of nearly 2,000 higher education professionals found that almost a third (30.7 percent) of the 1,958 respondents who completed the survey are using Twitter in some capacity. More than half (56.4 percent) say they’ve never used Twitter (Magna Pub 2). The remaining 12.9 percent of respondents say they tried it, but no longer use it.  Of those who currently use Twitter nearly three-fourths (71.8 percent) say they expect to increase their use during the coming academic year. Only 3.2 percent say their Twitter use will likely decrease, and 25.0 percent say it will stay about the same (Magna Pub 2). In terms of how higher education professionals are using Twitter, the most common activities include staying current on news/trends and networking with colleagues (even those they’ve never met in person). There also are educators who have experimented with different ways to use Twitter in the classroom, or have plans to do so for the first time this coming semester.  Many say they will try it next year, but that is an easy way to put off learning the technology for the classroom.  In higher education, many of the first adopters were professionals involved in marketing, admissions and alumni relations. Today a growing number of professors are using Twitter to connect with colleagues from around the country (or world) as well as in the classroom as a way of keeping students engaged.  Many are using Twitter, but there is still a larger number of professors who refuse to do so.

            Yet despite this growing cadre of active higher education Twitterers, the survey   showed that there is also a large group of educators who have yet to set up a      Twitter account. Many say they plan to test the waters for the first time when the        new school year begins this fall, and a few more say they are willing to give it a

            try, but aren’t sure where to start or are taking a “wait and see” before adding        Twitter to their growing arsenal of teaching tools. (Magna Pub 4).

Also, it’s important to note that despite Twitter’s tremendous growth, there is a large percentage of faculty who believe, very strongly in some instances, that “Twitter has no place in higher education” (Magna Pub 4).  In the study the article also posted comments from professors who had extreme feelings towards Twitter, here is but a small sampling,

            The only role Twitter would have in education would be to further dumb down the curriculum and the student body. Working in a technical field, we need equations,     figures, graphs, and other quantitative expressions, not just “Tweets”.


            Education, thus learning, requires reflection on content. Twitter encourages            comment without thought, reflection on content – antithesis of learning.


            Just because students like to read skywriting messages from airplanes in the sky doesn’t mean we have to shift our classroom instruction to the skywriting format.           (I’m trying to draw an analogy here just in case you think I am so ignorant that I        don’t know that “twitter” is not skywriting.)


Many professors have strong feelings towards technology in general.  They are a generation which is fighting against the technological changes.  In time, there will be no more arguing but a simple acceptance at all schools.  School is going toward technology integration for the simple fact that those who are being educated today have already embraced it.  If that group of students is going to be reached by teachers in the future, technology must be embraced by all for the benefit of the students.  In the Faculty Focus survey, “30.7 percent of the 1,958 higher education professionals who

completed the survey say they use Twitter. While significantly less than the 56.4 percent who say they’ve never used Twitter, consider this: Twitter’s footprint reached 10.7 percent of all active Internet users as of June 2009” (Magna Pub 12), according to market-research firm Nielsen Company, so it would appear that higher education professionals are adopting Twitter at a faster rate than the average Internet user.  Here are a few positive reviews from professors,

            I use it only for work (not personal) and the folks I follow do the same on our            shared topic/discipline.

            Receiving these bite sized pieces of information is great. I have gotten         information (timely too) that I might not ever have gotten. I’m hooked and can’t             imagine how our research group could collaborate or disseminate without it!


            Twitter=Valuable tool–challenges is to harness its power and regularize its usage             for maximum effect.


            I may explore using twitter in the classroom to get immediate feedback from           students


Integration and change can be difficult where education is concerned, but with time and instruction Twitter could be a powerful tool.

(sorry I will add work cited with final paper)

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