June 4, 2007 -- MySpace and Facebook may be giants in the digital world, but to some users they are so 2006. The newest social networking site to take off is Twitter.com, a micro-blogging tool that allows members to update friends and strangers on the important moments -- even the most trivial moments -- of their lives.
And if they don't spend every moment of their lives at a computer? Twitter is meant to be used on the go.
The site describes itself as a "global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing?" It allows users and their friends to send and receive updates on their comings and goings from anywhere, at any time.
Twitter opened to the public in July 2006, but got major notice after a media convention in March of this year. According to co-founder Biz Stone, Twitter's members doubled to 100,000 between February and March.
Now users range from everyday people to presidential candidates and multinational corporations.
Here's how it works: Each member gets his or her own page on Twitter.com and can update it with daily activities three different ways: through instant messaging, text messaging or by logging on to the site. Twitter automatically updates your page and sends a message about what you're doing to designated "friends."
Stone said the average Twitter user lists six to 12 "friends" on the site and choose to receive cell phone updates from three friends.
Politicians and Regular People
But not everyone is average. Some of Twitter's famous political users have thousands of friends.
Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards has a Twitter page complete with information on his campaign stops and platform. His May 28 update notes he's "thrilled to be in Iowa with Elizabeth and the kids," and on April 13 he asks his Twitter friends, "Wasn't Elizabeth great on Larry King last night?"
In addition to Edwards, presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., uses Twitters, as does House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner posts on Twitters about issues pending in Congress, including the Iraq War funding debate, often in the very simplest terms. On May 2, Boehner declared, "GOP unity forces Dems to back down on surrender dates."
Is It Overly Inane, or Just 'Intimate'?
Stone said the site has grown tremendously since March, but the company would not release exact numbers.
Some users, however, give the site only mixed reviews. And online critics have voiced concerns that its concept is bound to make online communication more mundane.
Maeleeke Lavan, a copywriter for a manufacturing company in the Southwest, says she updates her Twitter page several times a day during the week. Although she says she enjoys keeping up with friends through the site, Lavan says she's also cautious and limits what she posts to prevent anyone from following her too closely.
"You choose to go to a site like Twitter and 'put yourself out there,' but you don't have to do it," Lavan says. "You control what you share, which is why I don't post things like 'I'll be out of town for an entire week.' To me, posting fun things is one thing … posting personal things like that invites invasiveness."
Media writer Simon Dumenco wrote in a recent Advertising Age article that Twitter "makes the 'conversation' within the Web 'community' even more inane, piecemeal and ultra fleeting."
Some bloggers have asked whether the site is part of the growing trend of the nonstop streaming of our lives. And if so, is this safe, or does it enable people to follow others, almost to the point of stalking?
Stone, Twitter's co-founder, doesn't think so. In an interview with ABC News he says the site feels "small and intimate within a group of friends."
Stone says Twitter is different from other electronic tools.
"When you get an e-mail, you have to respond to it, but with Twitter, there's no expectation of a response."
Developing Its Own Language
Whether people love it or hate it, Twitter.com has developed into a world of its own.
An entire Twitterholic lingo and programs have developed around the site, created in part by the people who frequent it.
Twitter.com exposes part of its system to other developers so they can tap into it and build on top of it. The result is dozens of user-generated programs that help people integrate Twitter into their lives.
For Mac users, the user-created program Twitterific provides a translucent desktop panel listing updates from friends as they are posted. Another program, Twittervision.com, uses both Twitter and Google Maps to create a visualization of what people are doing around the world at any given moment.
Corporate users have turned to the site both as a public relations tool and for in-house networking. Delta Airlines, for instance, uses its Twitter page to send out company updates and manage customer service.
The cable channel Showtime even has a Twitter-only soap opera, a spinoff of the hit show "The L Word." Fans of the soap "Our Chart" follow along by receiving real-time updates of what the characters are doing.
As for competition from other social networking sites, the Twitter founders say they aren't too worried. A Twitter application allows users to post notes on both MySpace and Facebook.
So if you ever want anyone to know what you're doing, one text message to Twitter will send your friends a text message while updating your Twitter.com, Facebook and MySpace pages, simultaneously mapping you in the world for Twittervision.com users as a note pops up on your friend's desktop.
Not everyone is thrilled about the level of connectivity Twitter offers, but with more than 100,000 members and dozens of related applications, it's obvious what Twitter is doing -- growing.