Social Networking: The Next Generation
Its not all that long since my conversion to Facebook, and already I’m using an even more up-to-date Social Networking service: Twitter. This won’t mean I stop using Facebook, in fact, my Facebook profile now shows my most recent Twitter Update. And as you’ll hopefully have noticed, the same is shown top right of every page on my blog. So what on Earth is Twitter, why is it so good, why should people not fear it like the plague and what will it mean for the future of humanity. (Might not have time for the last bit, but hey).
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a sort of blogging service with some added twists. Firstly, users are limited to 140 characters per post (yes, you wish that applied to this blog). Second, users add friends, much like in Facebook (though there’s no recipricol friendship check). When I visit the site, the first thing I see is a list of my friends’ entries, a combined blog of sorts. Third, Twitter works with Mobile Phones.
Where Facebook have yet to give those outside North America the freedom of using their mobiles to stay tuned in, Twitter kindly supply a British mobile number for all Europeans to use when Twittering. Whenever I send a text message to 07624 801423, the first 140 characters become my latest entry. This means that, even when I’m away from computers, I can still update.
When my friends that I’ve chosen to ‘follow’ update twitter, I get a text message with the update. This is free, and you can even go online and send a direct message to a friend, which roughly equates to sending them a free text and an email at the same time. BTW, you can tell it to stop sending messages through the night.
It’s new, fast growing and will be integrated into more services and website in future I’m sure. I should warn you that this is the kind of web service which you use alongside others, rather than instead of others. Its something to show on your Facebook profile, not to ignore your Facebook profile, and its something to put on your blog, not to replace it altogether, as its likely you’ll post more often to twitter, but more reflectively to your blog (especially with the 140 character limit).
There now follow two things: my handy guide to getting my twitter updates, and some thoughts on the current negatives around Twitter.
To Register on Twitter (and get messages by SMS):
- Go to www.twitter.com and click ‘register for free’ on the right hand side.
- Fill out the form (you may need to take a few goes to get a free user name, but be adventurous as plenty of ‘nice’ names are still out there).
- Go to www.twitter.com/gmartin, and on the right side, click “add”.
Optional but highly recommended: (Details for how to turn off messages are below!)
- At the top of the page, click on ‘Settings’, and then on ‘Mobile & IM’.
- Enter your mobile number, and if you use any of the IM systems in the drop down, also add one of those.
- You will now be given a code and a mobile number to text it to. Text the code to the number, and you might as well store the number in your phonebook. That number is the same one you will always use for twitter.
Stopping the texts:
Either text ‘l gmartin’ to Twitter’s number, OR go on the website, on my profile page and click leave (this won’t de-friend me, just stop the SMS updates) OR go the website and find the place where it says “receive updates by ()Text&IM / ()Web Only and switch options.
- If you want to turn off notifications during the night (you won’t get the missed ones in the morning, btw) then go to settings and select your most common hours of sleep.
- You only pay for the texts you send, and never for anything you do on the website. However, when abroad your mobile company may charge you for receiving texts.
- There is a basic set of commands for use when texting. If you just send a message, then it becomes your latest Twitter update. Otherwise, the basic commands work like this: ‘<command> <user>’. To friend someone, the command is F, to stop following its L, and to direct message its D. So to stop following me its ‘L gmartin’ and to say hi its ‘D gmartin hi’.
- To get Bradford weather reports see http://www.twitter.com/wxbradford or text ‘F wxbradford’ to Twitter.
What are the limitations?
The one feature I’d like adding is groups, though I can kind of see how a bot might handle it (you direct message the bot which then reposts the message, thus allowing the bots limited and monitored group of friends to receive that message and not your list of friends). This would be good, though not without problems.
For instance, I might want everyone in a group about trains (including a few strangers) to know I’ve seen a really cool locomotive, but to spare some of my closer friends the details. But I’d have to block people who sent SPAM to the group. I assume it would mean texting ‘g <group name>’ before your message, much like ‘d <user name>’ for direct texts.
Secondly, there are social issues. Its clear to me just from the reactions of the few people I’ve already talked to that many people won’t sign up to the service for one of three reasons. Either they feel they would be compelled to continue receiving my texts for ever (you can unsubscribe from each person’s stream through website or text, and set all notifications to ‘web only’), they feel they’d be compelled to write their own events onto the site (not true) or they feel they’d somehow be either snooping or receiving more information than they want.
Given that I’m likely only to text once a day, maybe twice at most, and to only text what I feel comfortable with telling the world, neither reason for worrying about being over run is particularly valid, especially when you look at the number of emails and the volume of blog posts most people read these days. Even if all my friends on facebook (275) posted 2 times a day (550), at 20 words each (11,000), I’d be reading less from Twitter than I do from Facebook, Email and regular Blogs combined, and probably receiving less through all of the above.
Because I care about what those around me are up to, I read the status lines of all my friends whenever I get a chance. And I want people to haul me up when I post something they don’t understand because that way I can be accountable to them. Given how much politics I do, I can’t afford to do otherwise.
Its because I have friends who will treat me to humble pie when I go off the rails that I’m where I am today, and I’d like that to continue. Plus, I genuinely believe that openness builds community, and we need to build community. But I’ll save this rant for another day (soon, probably).