All’s a-twitter

By Derek Schlom

Bobby Kazimiroff ’09 is being followed. Forty-two people are acutely aware of his activities all day, every day. For instance, they know that on April 20 his breakfast consisted of coffee and a Jamba Juice smoothie. They know that his internet signal that day was not at full capacity. They know that he assisted his mother in aiding a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. They know that he watched “Jeopardy” for the first time in a while, and that the squeaking of his desk chair distracts him from studying for an AP Economics test.

They aren’t stalkers; they’re his friends. And they are reading his Twitter page.

For those not among the 14 million unique visitors to the site in the month of March alone, Twitter is a cost-free social networking and “micro-blogging” site created in 2006 that allows members to write “tweets” restricted to 140 characters, which are then posted onto the user’s profile page and sent to the aforementioned “followers,” who subscribe to fellow Twitter users’ posts.

“Updates don’t have to be about anything in particular,” Kazimiroff said. “They are short snippets of what you are doing at the moment. In the mornings while waiting to pick up carpool members I often tweet about the weather. If I had a fantastic meal at a restaurant I’ll post an update about it as well. I’ll often comment on how ridiculous the latest episode of Lost was. Anything and everything is a valid topic on Twitter.”

Grace Park ’09, who updates her Twitter twice a day on TwitterFon, an iPhone application, calls the site “addicting.”

“I follow ‘The Ellen Show,’ Perez Hilton and Britney Spears [on Twitter], so I like being able to get updates, pictures and contest information from them,” she said.

As Twitter’s popularity grows (from fewer than 300,000 users in June 2007 to six million current Tweeters, including the likes of Oprah Winfrey), the debate wages on between those who consider Twitter a vehicle for the self-obsessed to share mundane details of their lives and they consider it a vast improvement over the redesigned Facebook.

User Brendan Kutler ’10 considers Twitter a “free, easy-to-use texting service.”

“I realize that a lot of kids have some beef with Twitter, describing it as a void where pretentious people throw useless facts that no one cares about, and, quite honestly, Twitter is filled with people who fit that description to a tee,” Kutler said. “But I could make almost the same argument about Facebook. Just as ‘no one cares’ about my 140-character updates, no one gives a crap about your [Facebook] bumper sticker. Those kinds of double standards really bug me.”

Twitter is “most useful,” user Angela Navarro ’09 said, when used as a communication tool for social networking. Navarro updates her Twitter “frequently.”

“If you just tweet about insignificant details about your life, then yes, it becomes a lame site where people spout on about things no one else cares about. But I use it to keep in touch with my friends, my previous purpose for Facebook, a heavy site of photos, videos events, groups and people where it’s hard to keep track of the people you actually care about,” she said.

Kazimiroff, who joined Twitter nearly a year ago, finds Facebook “way too cluttered,” he said.

“There is way too much going on update-wise every time I log on. With my Twitter account I have a lot more control over the information I receive. No extraneous applications, no ads, just updates from a very specific group of people.”

Still, the “too much information” factor can be high, even among friends. As Tweeter Nick Merrill jokes, “Advantages [to Twitter] include knowing what your friends are up to. Disadvantages include knowing what your friends are up to.”

While citizen journalists have long utilized the site (eyewitnesses to the Mumbai terrorists attacks in November 2008 posted updates as the events unfolded), Twitter’s next frontier may well be as a legitimate news source.

British newspaper The Guardian joked on April Fool’s Day that all stories would now exclusively be told in Twitters’ 140-character format, but reputable papers like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times now regularly post breaking news updates and links to their respective websites via Twitter pages (Navarro follows the CNN Twitter, and Ian Cinnamon ’10 posts news articles on his page frequently).

Diverse uses for Twitter may be essential in a market saturated with sites for blogging and social networking.

“Despite having a thousand digital ways to communicate with our peers already, Twitter is a fun way to stay connected,” Tweeter Serena Berman ’09 said. “It’s really a site for anything. No rules.”

“I’m glad to be a part of the Twitter culture,” she said.