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8 April 2008updated 04 Oct 2023 11:57am

Twitter : a messaging network">Chris Adams, a graphic designer interested in new media appli

By Chris Adams

Twitter is a fast growing social messaging service initially used for sharing informal, short messages with friends.

This time last year, Twitter was surfing a veritable tsunami of hype at SXSW Interactive, and now, a year later, people piping the minutiae of their life onto their Facebook profiles and weblogs is a growing commonplace.

Much of Twitter’s success seems to lie in its willful simplicity, and the ease at which it can be used in all kinds of ways beyond its initial purpose.

To send an update, you simply send a text message to a shortcode number; your update is then relayed to everyone following you in your network of friends, showing up as an update on their web page, or more interestingly sent as a text message to their phone. They can reply directly, or add to the conversation by sending a text of their own, which sends an update to everyone on their network, and so on.

Restricting each message to slightly less than the length of a text message enforces a throwaway approach to each message that liberates you from labouring over the content. It also makes it cost the same to send a message to one friend’s phone as it does to 500 phones, so it is a great tool for activists.

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Telling the world what you had for breakfast this morning may be fun, but the qualities that make Twitter so popular as a tool for broadcasting the mundane, have also created a network that was able to scoop the BBC on an earthquake to hit the UK. It also helped protesters in San Francisco to coordinate an anti war demonstration by mobile phone and tracked the spread of wildfire outbreaks in California.

And as you’d expect from an election year, political parties globally are waking up to this new tool. Almost every US presidential candidate has presence on Twitter, and here in the UK, Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has been using it since January. Paddick was recently joined by the Conservative party, Labour party and even Downing Street.

Further reading on interesting uses for tools like twitter:

Marshall Kirkpatrick on Twitter’s news scoop of the largest earthquake in the UK in 50 years.

Simon Dickson’s analysis on political parties’ use of twitter.

LA Fire Department department using Twitter to post information about fires it responds to.

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