While "cool" is a subjective term, it's undeniably trendy and exciting to have hundreds or thousands of people reading your thoughts and interacting with your words. Twitter, a popular micro-blogging service, creates opportunities for distributed interaction between strangers with common interests. From protests against totalitarian regimes to saving people from committing suicide, Twitter has far exceeded its original intent to provide quick, easy communication in small chunks.
The basic technology of Twitter is simple by design. Messages of up to 140 characters are exchanged via the Internet and mobile phone connections to create an ongoing conversation of pithy statements. Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has developed a worldwide following and continues to grow in size. As of November 2010, Twitter claimed 175 million users, with 15 million new members joining each month. This huge pool of users means that "tweets" (individual posts on Twitter) reach a vast audience.
Compelling content from a Twitter user has a lot to do with the "cool factor." Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are two incredibly popular users because their tweets relate to the lives of celebrities and many people want to read them. Sometimes, tweets are mundane, describing what someone had for dinner; other times, Twitter can be a life-or-death drama, as when one of Demi Moore's followers threatened suicide. Other followers saw the post and alerted police who responded and were able to help the woman.
Anyone can follow anyone on Twitter. You can follow Shaquille O'Neil or Terrell Owens if you are into sports or Adam Savage from the popular TV show "Mythbusters" if that's your cup of tea. Tweets go out around the world rather than to a limited circle of friends. Additionally, Twitter users can self-organize around topics by using hash-tags. A hash-tag starts with that hash symbol ("#"), followed by a word or phrase. For example, the hash-tag for the Egyptian protests in early 2011 was "#egypt" (without quotes). Anyone appending that tag to a tweet is instantly grouped with everyone else tweeting about the topic. Twitter shows the top 10 trending topics based on the number of hash-tags in use at any given time. Many people find the notion of connecting with people around the world for a common cause to be cool.
Twitter, a service that was built on the notion of blogging in a small, instant format, has been transformed into a medium that drives commerce and affects world politics. In the summer of 2009, Iran held an election that was contested and protested. The government censored the media and prevented the rest of the world from hearing about the event. Twitter emerged as one of the few ways that people could share what was happening in the moment and gave a voice to the masses behind the veil of censorship. Also in early 2011, the Egyptian government attempted to censor its citizens but tools like Twitter spread the word of what the government was doing. There's not much that's cooler than spreading hope around the world through a tool like Twitter.
- "Time" Magazine; Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement; Lev Grossman; Jun 2009
- NPR: A Primer on Following Egyptian Protests on Twitter Categories: Foreign News; Andy Carvin; Jan 2011
- CNN: Demi Moore Responds to Twitter Suicide Threat; Alan Duke; Apr 2009
- TG Daily; Twitter on Pace to Reach 200 Million Users by 2011; Mark Raby; Nov 2010
- Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images