In case you haven’t seen it yet, Twitter is a micro-sharing website where you describe in 140 characters or less what you’re up to. You can send and receive messages via SMS (text messages) on your phone, through Twitter’s website and third-party applications such as Twitterific. If you want to talk “with” someone on Twitter, you add @theirusername to the front of the message and it shows up in the person’s replies tab. This was a feature that was added several months after Twitter first launched in 2006 based upon how people ended up actually using the service. That’s been the consistent story for Twitter — it’s definitely evolved beyond “I’m making an omelet for breakfast” to now include sharing info about late breaking news, making plans with a group of cohorts, etc.
I was one of the first users of Twitter — I signed up in August or September of 2006. (Twitter briefly noted your sign-up date but didn’t keep that tidbit around for very long, for whatever reason.) I wasn’t expecting to really use it much. At the time there weren’t a lot of users and even if there were — who cares what I’m up to?
Fast forward to today and I have 1,877 followers. That’s not the 3930204932 follows (only a slight exaggeration) that people like Robert Scoble or Chris Brogan have — but it’s still a decent number of people who want to receive my brief alerts. For me, the tipping point happened at South by Southwest Interactive in 2007 when a bunch of us used Twitter to quickly make meetup plans. A few months later I was interviewed on CNN talking about using Twitter. They definitely took the “Twitter fan girl” angle on the story but it had a little more depth than Alex Beam’s article in today’s Boston Globe. Probably because CNN talked to both Twitter HQ and its users. Amazing!
I can understand Alex’s initial assessment if he was just a regular Twitter user writing about it on his personal blog. But he’s a journalist who gets paid to write about this stuff. There are a lot of people in the greater Boston area using Twitter and it would not have been that difficult to reach out to a few of us to gather more research about the article. Doing a search for “Boston” currently shows 5,357 users who have Boston noted in their name or location. (That doesn’t count people in the greater Boston area who don’t specifically note Boston as their location. I’m in Watertown, for example.) Journalists have power with their words — many people who aren’t that online savvy will read Alex’s article and dismiss checking out Twitter. I think that’s unfortunate.