That very first tweet, sent on 21 March 2006, was very simple: ‘just setting up my twttr’. The hallmark of Twitter is the brevity of tweets; the 140-character limit was set up to match the standard length of a text message using original mobile phones. The effect is messaging that is succinct and immediate as people share their life experiences as they happen, across a medium that is still free to use. Today, across the world 6,000 tweets are sent per second, 500 million per day and around 200 billion per year.
It is now easier in many ways to keep in touch with someone via Twitter than other messaging platforms like email or text. However, in many ways it is still very much in its infancy in terms of the evolution of communication in civilised society. Given its brief history, it is quite possible that in 10 to 15 years’ time, the social networks we use today – Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram – may not look or be used like they are today.
Interestingly, the 10th anniversary of Twitter coincides with the 10th anniversary of the academic discipline of Web Science, established jointly by the University of Southampton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study the evolution of the web, how it impacts on our lives and how we impact on it.
Through Web Science, my colleagues and I across the world are asking questions about how we currently use Twitter and how we may wish to use it in the future. We are trying to gain an understanding of all the good things we use Twitter for, as well as the bad, because of the importance we now place on social media in our daily lives.
Twitter has transformed the ways in which we connect, communicate and collaborate, in terms of both teaching and research. It allows us to keep up-to-date with our subjects, follow events remotely that we often cannot attend in person, and engage with others to build global networks. It is an increasingly important tool in recruitment, for both employers and potential employees.
Real-time and ‘always on’ short messaging services such as Twitter give us the means to transform traditional processes and the timescales associated with them. Live video of an event taking place on campus can be tweeted and queries or feedback can be addressed while the event is still taking place. For example, in the recent Digital Marketing MOOC, we used Periscope to live broadcast a discussion on campus with a topic specialist, fielding questions via Twitter from learners watching from all over the world.
Personally, I find Twitter a very useful tool for my teaching. Using the relevant module code as a hashtag, I answer student queries or send out deadline reminders. I also use Twitter to find and share useful content, such as upcoming events or newly published articles of interest to my network. In the classroom, it can open up discussions via the hashtag to questions from virtual learners as well as those in the room, for example if a guest speaker is featured in the session or is contributing by Google Hangout. These tweets can be showcased in real time within the module blog.
Many people will have their own specific examples of how well Twitter works for them. More broadly though, we can note some fundamental changes that it has made possible.
To find out more about these five transformative impacts of Twitter, read Lisa’s recent article in the Huffington Post.