Friday, May 11, 2012

"What is Twitter exactly?"

A common question these days as I walk down school halls, help teachers in the classroom, or pickup mail in the copy room is "Eddie, what is Twitter exactly? Please explain to me what it is."

Below are three ways I have explained Twitter to others. Hopefully, one or more of these explanations will help you to "get it" and even motivate you to try it:

1) Basically, Twitter is a micro-blog that allows you to communicate with those "following" you with short statements (almost headline-like since you are limited to 140 characters). This description often leads to more questions like, "So, why would I want to do that?" So, let's move on...

2) Metaphorically, Twitter comments ("tweets") are like water-cooler discussions that tend to be a mix of small talk, FYIs, and social networking. While the water cooler metaphor is helpful it is also limited since it suggests that Twitter is mosty a feed of random and mundane comments. Obviously, Twitter is far more beneficial than that or it would not be so popular. So, let's try again...

3) Potentially, Twitter is a "personal learning network" (PLN). While some tweets may be social ramblings or random acts of sharing, there are quite a few nuggets too -- and some of these are loaded with the potential to inspire, motivate, and engage you in meaningful discussions and learning experiences. This is the lure of Twitter and why I use it. It is what you make it so choose who and what you follow wisely and you will be rewarded in the end.

OK, I know there is one more question that is often asked (and you may have been thinking about it while reading the above): "What is the difference between Facebook and Twitter?" Well, that's a fair question. I use to think that Twitter was simply a scaled down version of Facebook and only offered something similar to Facebook's "wall" of streaming comments which is based on the posts from your friends list. Yes, there are similarities but I learned that Twitter is still unique in concept and doesn't require choosing one tool over the other. In the end, I discovered that I have two separate needs when it comes to social networking tools. Facebook is primarily my social networking tool to stay in touch with family and friends (allowing me to learn about the events of their lives from a comfortable distance and in return share slices of my world with them). Twitter is primarily my learning community tool to network with professional peers and like-minded persons who share my interests and passions (allowing me to learn from their insightful/inspiring comments and in return share my thoughts and perspectives with them). Of course, the above is my personal strategy with these tools.

Well, I started this blog post in an effort to describe Twitter to those who don't have an account (or rarely use it). I can't help but feel that my effort is like explaining to non-swimmers what swimming is like. While I think about refreshing currents and overall benefits, others may think about dangerous waters and risk of drowning. Sometimes you simply have to jump in and figure it out. So, in the words of the popular 80s song by Van Halen: "Jump!" You will be swimming in Twitter-friendly waters in no time!

In case you missed it, below is a web link for yesterday's post: "Twitter Chats for Educators"

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