Who Is Twitter?

Twitter Dan and Audrey

Before setting off on our journey, I had never touched HTML, I had no idea what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) meant and my writing consisted mainly of reports to management on how to operate legally and efficiently in countries like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan.

How things have changed in the last couple of years. I can now code basic HTML, I’m painfully aware of the relevance of SEO and I now write pieces that have nothing to do with operating legally in Farflungistan.

My world has also changed because of social media, virtual connections, and this thing called Twitter.

Are We Normal?

After reconnecting with friends and family in America, I realize our world of online immersion is not the norm. I use the word “Twitter” in everyday conversation, yet I often get blank stares in return.

As I attempt to explain social media to those unfamiliar, I hear myself speak about virtual connections and conversations with people I’ve never met. And sometimes I wonder whether I’ve lost it.

But I don’t think I have. Let me explain.

How We Use Twitter

The beauty of Twitter is its brevity. 140 characters is all you have to get your message – a “tweet” in Twitter parlance – out to the world.

We developed a community by “following” people who seemed to share similar interests (e.g., travel, food, technology, public diplomacy) and others whose activities interested us (e.g., authors, technologists, other bloggers). Once we follow someone, their updates appear in our Twitter stream (think of a continuous newsreel of 140-character stories). If the person you follow has an interest in you, he/she will follow you in return, thereby establishing the connection.

Turkmenbashi Watches in Internet Cafe - Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Big brother watching at the internet cafe in Turkmenistan.

Although we are connected to a few personal friends, most of our contacts on Twitter are people we’ve never met in person. They come from everywhere – geographically and professionally.

As we pass Twitter 101 with our basic use of it, many of our contacts could be comparatively described as Twitter PhDs. Twitter is a social media tool, and like any tool, it’s how you use it that determines its benefits.

  1. Status updates: When we’re on the road and faced with limited internet access, we use Twitter to provide quick updates on where we are and what we’re doing. We’ve noticed that in some countries with strict internet controls, Twitter may be the only communication tool that has remains unblocked. Twitter status updates keep family, friends and readers (as well as our Twitter community) apprised of our location…and relative safety.
  2. Sharing articles and links: We use Twitter to promote our latest blog posts and share other interesting articles we happen to be reading. Everyone else is doing the same, so in about five minutes of scanning updates from Twitter contacts, we can get an overview of the latest articles and happenings in the world of politics, travel, public diplomacy, human rights, technology, social media, etc. A nice feature, but it can be overwhelming at times – so much to read, so little time!
  3. Conversations and networking: Sometimes we reply to a person’s update and that person responds to our reply. A virtual conversation ensues. Because of the informal nature of Twitter, you can start conversations with people and organizations you might otherwise not have direct access to. In this way, Twitter makes for an impressive – and discontinuous – networking tool.
  4. Gathering advice: The nature of Twitter has prompted practitioners from every field to use the platform to further establish their expertise. As a result, Twitter’s conversational threads hold a growing store of knowledge. Ask a question on Twitter – regarding just about anything – and depending on your network, you’ll have a slew of answers streaming your way within minutes.

Downsides

Like any of today’s “social networking” tools, Twitter can be a distraction, and trying to keep apace with it absorbs precious time. There’s just so much going on – conversations, new links to articles, breaking news. And it doesn’t stop, unless you turn away.

Of course, many of the updates and discussions can be irrelevant and it often takes time to sift through it for the gems.

The challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff is nothing new, however.

Turning Virtual into Face-to-Face

My favorite aspect of using social media tools: to convert virtual connections into traditional face-to-face meetings. For example, when I tweeted about being in Brooklyn in last November, Julie (aka, @collazoprojects) saw it and contacted me. We met a few days later.

I have also been chatting more with Leigh (@thefutureisred) and I hope we have an opportunity to meet in person in Argentina this year.

Although much of our lives is online these days, I understand – and appreciate more than ever – that nothing replaces meeting someone in person. As we continue to Twitter along this journey, I look forward to more of these face-to-face conversions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Audrey!

    It really is perfect for our open-ended, world-travel kind of life, isn’t it? I just stumbled upon it over a year ago and it is so great to use when wifi is hard to find or expensive.

    We might not be able to get a blog post up, but we can let our readers know where we are and even use the twitpic option to link a photo, so it is almost like a live feed.

    I also wrote about Twitter & Travel2.0 last month:

    http://www.soultravelers3.com/2009/02/twitter-travel-20.html

    We have met fantastic people through Twitter, gotten great insider ideas for places we visit, have helped many others, gotten many jobs & interview opportunities…..even free books from a IT teacher in the UK recently for my 8yo’s online John Hopkin’s Univ. CTY class! Not to mention going to Conde Nast Traveler’s offices in NYC and to travel writing icon Wendy Perrin’s home for Halloween!

    We are in nature and unplugged a lot, haven’t watched TV in years, don’t own a iphone, ipod or wii, but Twitter is certainly a digital nomad’s best friend!

    Congrats on your Lonely planet nomination! We are thrilled that one of our 3 nominations is for our Twitter microblogging. Who knew, eh? I never would have guessed when we started in 2006, that we would be traveling the web2.0 world as we travel the real world!

    Technology is making us trail blazers for a new way of being! Travel is moving into a whole new realm. So fun to be a part of it. Hilarious for me to be a cutting edge geek! ;)

    @soultravelers3

  2. Bryan Rilinger says

    Hi guys! Your talk of technology confuses me. I am starting to feel like i live in a cave (well I suppose Good Dream is sort of like a cave, just with multiple televisions and thankfully, the absence of a school next door now.) It is hard for me to believe that i went to school for this sort of stuff and now i don’t even understand what you are talking about !

    Keep it coming, love the updates.

    Bry

  3. says

    For a long time I fought against Twitter – and now, it just seems like another thing to fall into. It feels like the purity of old facebook back when it was college kids only. No apps, nothing – just “here’s what i’m doing.”

  4. says

    Hey now, I’ve only just recently got onto Twitter as well! Well I registered sometime 2 years ago, but abandoned and only been active again recently…

    I have to say tho.. Twitter can be very time-consuming at times. Especially since all these Tweepers are so good at pitching their links. As I click on one or two that caught my eye, two others will come out. And when I’m done reading them.. there will be more that caught my interest.

    But yes, it’s an amazing tool to share information! =)

  5. says

    I don’t think I’ve even been able to pass Twitter 101 as of yet, so informative and well-thought-out rundowns like this are really helpful! I agree that the volume of tweets can easily overload the daily schedule, and that’s coming from someone who’s only following 30 or so tweeters. Overall, though, the benefits have outweighed this drawback, in my experience.

    By the way, was that photo at the top taken during a Sacred Valley tour out of Cuzco? Those mountains look very familiar…

  6. says

    @soultravelers3: It is pretty amazing how current technology allows all of us on the road to stay connected with family and friends, as well as create a new virtual community.

    @Bryan: Next time we hunker down at Good Dreams for a few weeks of work, I’ll take you through all the new technology and lingo :)

    @previously.bitten: I’ve noticed that Twitter has come up with friends recently who had initially dismissed it as silly, but then started to realize the networking and business development possibilities. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

    @Nik: I’m with you about getting sucked into all the good content being pushed via links. Sometimes I just have to turn it off.

    @Hal: The photo above is from the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. I believe this was around day 7 or 8 of the trek (before Manang).

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