Twitter’s Timeline

In March, Twitter celebrated its 5th birthday, and my-my, how far it has come.

Despite its short lifespan, there’s no denying the site’s maturation. From changes in design and popularity, to celebrating memorable events such as the first tweet from space, here are some of the highlights of Twitter’s half-decade of existence:

March 2006: Jack Dorsey creates Twitter. On March 31, he publishes the first tweet ever, which says, “just setting up my twttr.”

Just as an interesting comparison, it was on March 10, 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell spoke into the first telephone. His words were: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

April 2007: Twitter becomes its own company.

November 2008: Twitter passes the 1 billion tweet mark!

July 2009: Twitter is welcomed into the English language, being officially recognized by Collins English Dictionary as both a noun and a verb.

October 2009: Less than a year after passing the 1 billion tweet mark, Twitter passes the 5 billion mark. Talk about growth!

January 2010: NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, on board the International Space Station, communicates from space via Twitter.

July 2010: Twitter introduced the “Suggestions for You”  feature, offering personalized suggestions of users that may interest you.

August 2010: Twitter surpasses MySpace in the number of unique monthly visitors.

April 2011: The new twitter homepage is introduced. A new and improved look calls for new features as well, including the Local Trends feature, which expands to more than 70 cities and countries.

And of course, on May 1, 2011: Twitter is all a’twitter with speculation and then confirmation of the death of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. At one point, 5,106 tweets per second are recorded. This is the third highest tweeting rate, falling behind the numbers registered during New Years ’11 in Japan and the fatal tsunami there in March.

And it seems that Twitter’s success continues to grow substantially. More and more companies, celebrities, and average individuals are hitting the site to share their 140 character opinions. As for myself, I’ve been a member since 2008 and haven’t looked back since. I still rely on Twitter for news, both of substantial quality and the fluff celebrity pieces. As for the events of this past May 1st, I actually first heard the news from Twitter. I also first heard of Michael Jackson’s death via Twitter. It’s such a convenient source for news, often providing you with the perfect amount of headline and a link to more information. I’m a big Twitter fan (as may be apparent from my ramblings), what about you? Will it live on? Or are its days numbered?

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Hearing the Homeless, on Twitter

Whenever I visit the city, I am always struck by the number of displaced and destitute people are on the streets. While I won’t attempt to preach my opinion, since I in no way mean for this post to be a political piece, I think we can all agree that there is a homelessness problem that must be dealt with.

Research has been conducted to determine more exact numbers of the poverty-striken, and the statistics are staggering:

“Each year, more than 3 million people experience homelessness, including 1.3 million children.”

“Each night, over 38,000 homeless individuals sleep in the New York City shelter system. This includes more than 16,000 children and 8,000 single adults. Thousands more sleep on city streets and in other public places.”

“Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.”

While these facts and figures are heartbreaking, for many they remain disconnected and thus less emotionally charged. For this reason, an organization called Underheard in New York has reached out to give the homeless their own voice. The program, with the help of the local shelter, chose 4 homeless New Yorkers and provided them with free cells phones, a month of unlimited text messaging, and a twitter account. Armed with social media, Underheard in New York hopes that these delegates, representing a previously under-represented community, will bring life on the streets to life. Says the website:

“Underheard in New York is an initiative to help homeless residents in New York City speak for themselves. We’ve provided [the representatives] each with their own mobile phone, a month of unlimited text messaging and a Twitter account. They’ve found their voices by texting their thoughts, feelings and actions to Twitter. We aim to use their social media presence to create real interaction both online and off. In other words, get to know them as individuals.”


On February 1st, Danny, Derrick, Albert, and Carlos began their month of social networking. Prepared with short lessons on how to use the new phones and twitter accounts, the men were quick to get their voices heard. The messages are riddled with misspellings and key slips, adding authenticity and sincerity. The men tweet their feelings, opinion, thoughts, and activities to all their followers, while the people at Under Heard in New York monitor their use and progress.

I found the program endearing, with its candor and frankness. I will admit that my immediate question was, “why not just give them the money/money’s worth of food that would be spent on the phones?” After seeing the messages these men have posted, I understand the importance of the bigger picture– bringing an awareness to an ever-increasing section of our population that remains voiceless and, thus, helpless.

So whatever your opinion on the economy, the homelessness situation, welfare, or politics in general are, please get behind this program. Make it worthwhile, and consider donating to your local shelter or food bank. And while you’re at it, why not follow the twitterers on their journey!?

{via http://mashable.com/2011/02/16/homeless-tweets-underheard/}

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Today I got into a discussion with some of my co-workers about the purpose and benefits of Twitter (Note: These are co-workers in a field completely unrelated to public relations and, as women primarily in their mid to late 40s, they had limited knowledge of this mysterious thing called “twitter”). In the midst of explaining WHAT twitter was, I mentioned that I myself have a twitter page. I was met with a similar reaction that I often get from my very own peers– “why?”

Often I’m asked what possibly advantages Twitter has over Facebook. The error here is that people are so quick to compare the two social networking sites. Sure, they have similarities (for instance, I’ll often dumb down my Twitter explanation by comparing it to Facebook status updates), but they are also vastly different. I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends from home, friends from school, friends from abroad, and even the occasional soft-core stalking of people I haven’t seen since high school. While I do “follow” some of these same people on twitter, I look at twitter as a much different platform from which to conduct and access networking and communication.

As I explained to my coworkers today, Twitter is beneficial for companies who want a way to send a quick message to employees or consumers. They can have multiple accounts– perhaps one for Customer support, another for internal communications, and still another with job opening postings. Having done a lot of work on twitter for a recent internship, I realized that most of the Fortune 500 companies are on twitter and have employed it in some of the ways I mentioned above.

But there is much more to twitter than finding out the latest in news from Microsoft or big name car companies. Often the immediate appeal, especially for the youth or starstruck, are the celebrities that use twitter. I will admit that I was similarity drawn to twitter when I found out that I could be following these idolized individuals who we, the masses, usually view as so far away from ourselves, so separate. Twitter gives you a behind-the-scenes sort of view of celebrities– their thoughts, perhaps picture and video posts, what they’re up to, and usually all this goes public without the censorship of their badgering publicists. These sort of things have led to a number of fun scandals for the public (i.e. John Mayer, he was practically asking for it). I myself am a big movie and television buff. I like to see the behind the scenes footage, know what’s happening on set, and even catch up on my spoilers. For this reason, I follow a number of entertainment and film sites on twitter. Their 140 character headlines are sometimes enough, or else I’ll click a link or photo they may provide. I also follow my own brand of celebrities, including directors (such as Jon Favreau) who are always eager to give their most loyal audiences some sneak peeks.

Of course, there are still other reasons to follow people on twitter, such as keep up with friends or getting the latest headlines, but the question often is– Why tweet?

Honestly, I enjoy it. I enjoy coming up with 140 character witticisms that I hope my (few) followers enjoy. It also does come in handy for keeping in touch with my few friends who also tweet. I admit, I’m horrible at keeping in touch, even with all of the modern day advances in communication. And yet, despite my inability to sit down and send an email, I will ALWAYS check my twitter, where I find out that so-and-so got accepted to law school, or so-and-so really enjoyed some movie. These little tidbits are often trivial, but still help me stay connected– to friends, family, websites, news, and even the occasional celebrity.

For companies, the “why tweet?” is obvious– for your business. While studies show that the majority of twitter users are under the age of 30, they are also usually the most technologically advanced. For certain companies, this is exactly the market they are looking for. For other companies, a twitter account still keeps them in touch with this particular target audience. No business needs to completely devote themselves to their twitter account, but it certainly is a good way to keep clients and consumers updated. In crisis communication situations, a twitter account is also beneficial in maintaining a clear and open position. Sure, you could write a whole blog entry (like this one), or you could give multiple updates, as you get them, keeping your audience informed and up to date.

Most recently, I heard that a heart surgeon has decided to employ twitter to give live updates as she performs open heart surgery. At first, I imagined some Scrubs-esque scene where a doctor tweets in between every task– that’s ridiculous, I thought. Then I realized that obviously the surgeon themselves was not tweeting (duh!). It eventually dawned on me that if I had a family member undergoing a difficult and life-threatening procedure, I would want constant updates on their progress. Imagine the countless hours people wait to hear the news, pacing back and forth, unable to settle down until they know the news. What if they could follow the surgery on twitter? Would that reduce their anxiety? Sure, there are probably several problems and possibly even ethical situations there. A few bugs to work out. But what an extraordinary idea.

So if you use twitter for fun, for the news, for the business, or for whatever reason– enjoy it. It’s not Facebook. It’s not a blog. It’s its own site, with its own unique features to be explored and expanded on. Or perhaps it is the very simplicity of twitter that attracts so many of us. As I once tweeted: Twitter is perfect for people like me whose wit rarely reaches anything above 140 characters.

(oh, and P.S. to enjoy some more of my writing, but in a 140 character limit sort of way, feel free to follow me: trickart262)