Twitter. It’s likely you’ve heard the name thrown around on CNN, by your friends, on the radio, or just overheard someone talking about it. ‘Twitter’ is much more than a word that may be quickly disregarded as a catchy avian onomatopoeia. It’s an Internet site, a social network, a recent online phenomenon…and it could just save your life.
Twitter, (as googled) would warrant the searcher something like this:
“Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
Sounds simple enough, right? It can be. Twitter is simply a way to keep connected and informed about what’s going on in other peoples lives. This is carried out through checking twitter.com in a browser, or using a client to access the same information. However, a website to tell people what you’re doing isn’t all that exciting or groundbreaking. Similarly, a website relaying information about what Susy thought of that movie or how Sally met a cute boy has an ice cubes chance in hell of saving your life.
The plot thickens a metric shit-ton when you add in everyone’s mobile phones. Twitter can be used via a cell phone. Now before 95% of you shout at me about not having data on your phone, calm down: It can be all done using SMS, or for the less acronymically inclined, TEXTING. Again, before you start, Its nothing like Facebook. If I had a car for every time I was asked “Isn’t that just like Facebook” I’d be rolling like Leno. The difference is in the details.
Let’s set up a totally valid situation for an example. You’ve just finished seducing a member of the opposite sex far outside your league successfully after an unhealthy dose of courage thanks to over consumption of adult beverages. Second-base-dancefloor-debauchery leads to a mutual agreement to leave the venue to pursue aforementioned goal of sleeping with this complete stranger. In infinite wisdom the decision is made to drive home. During the walk stumble out to the car you receive a text message from “21212” saying “Checkstop on (insert road unavoidable on the way home here)” Thankfully, you have twitter linked up to your phone, avoid the obvious disaster of jail, grab a cab, and still manage to score.
Facebook wouldn’t have messaged you to tell you that, and even more importantly, someone you have never met wouldn’t have messaged you to tell you that either. Twitter pushes down the messages to your device (“active”) whereas you would have had to suffer through facebook’s mobile interface and checked everyone who was out at the bar that night’s profile to find this information (“passive”). Not feasible. That’s also assuming someone would have had the foresight to update their status to something helpful in that situation. Additionally, (in most cases) random helpful user would have had to head home to do this. Sending a quick text (just one) that ends up being viewed by everyone who’s interested, however, is a pretty powerful idea.
Yes, often times Twitter can be relatively mundane banter about service at a restaurant, or a roadtrip or a missed class, but when you take everyone utilizing twitter together and add the instant, active, push-notification attributes of the service, you have a tool that can be leveraged for MANY uses. In the tech world, we would say it SCALES to many situations. Recently, an earthquake hit the L.A. area.
“Twitter co-founder Biz Stone notes that the AP pushed out its first wire item on the news 9 minutes after people were already tweeting about it on Twitter. The first tweet about it came mere seconds after the earthquake started.”
This is the cool part. Just about everyone carries a mobile phone. Twitter transforms millions of people into first-on-the-scene reporters with the facts. Sure, it’s not the most reliable source in the world and one message isn’t enough to confirm or deny a school shooting or volcano-no-longer-dormant but most of the time, the volume of tweets can filter out any misinformation.
My grandmother and Aunt/cousins are still without power after being run over by hurricane Ike. The day after Ike hit, I leveraged twitter to find them Points of Distribution, the first stores open, fuel for generators, and other important information about surviving in the wake of hurricane douchebag. Most (99%) residents had no power, but the cell towers stayed up, and updates started flying in about what was going on where in Texas.
The whole global twitter network can be queried for keywords. I don’t follow anyone in Texas, but in this case I used “Ike”, “Conroe” “POD” and searched EVERY PERSON ON TWITTER. That’s over 2.2 million people. When I found this info out (again, instant, firsthand accounts) we called it down to Texas. No power means no TV, and radio stations are slow enough that by the time they had announced a new POD, they were already out of Ice and water. By searching for first-hand, instant updates from people who are IN THE MIDDLE OF IT, I gained insight ahead of everyone else, and helped my family survive a natural disaster.
Call it crowdsourcing, social networking, or whatever you like. In the end, it may be finding out a friend enjoyed a movie, avoiding a speeding ticket, or surviving a natural disaster, but the power of instant, first-hand, easy-to-post updates and information from millions of people everywhere and anywhere in the world might just be more powerful than you had thought.