The growing impact of Twitter

Throughout the year, Twitter has occasionally been in the news. While some of its contemporaries either have issued, or have been preparing for, Initial Public Offers, relatively speaking, Twitter has been operating under the radar.  This post examines its growing impact in our social space.

On Monday this week, the international press reported that Saudi prince, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and his investment firm, Kingdom Holding Company, had purchased a stake in Twitter to the tune of USD 300 million. According to Reuters, the transaction was conducted in the secondary market, meaning that shares were purchased from existing stakeholders, where the Twitter has been valued at around US 8 billion. Further, there has been considerable speculation that the company is moving steadily towards issuing an Initial Public Offer (IPO), although it recently raised USD 800 million through the private sale of shares. As at October 2011, Twitter reportedly:

  • has 100 million active users
  • who generated 200 million tweets per day, and
  • half of its active users logged on to Twitter daily (Source: Mashable).

Notwithstanding, Twitter’s achievement to date and its perceived value in financial markets, it is still seen as the backward country bumpkin to Facebook. Admittedly, Facebook has a considerably larger network – over 800 million active users (Source: Facebook), but Twitter possesses some unique attributes that increasingly, are having an impact not only on social networks, but also on how we communicate.

140 characters or less…

Twitter is normally described as a micro-blogging platform, where messages (referred to as “tweets”) must be no more than 140 characters. Unlike blogs, where it can take a writer several minutes, even hours, to prepare a blog post or even to comment on a post, a tweet can be rattled off in seconds, which makes it highly accessible and an easier means to share one’s thoughts.

Second, the condensed format makes it conducive to being used whilst on the go and on mobile devices, which are not necessarily designed for intensive typing. It should be noted that although in developed countries and even across the Caribbean, Twitter is most often accessed by a computing interface (PC, tablet, smartphone, etc), users can send tweets via Short Messaging Services (SMS) on traditional mobile phones.

Finally, although communicating a thought in less than 140 characters might seem daunting at first, it is consistent with the abbreviated way people tend to communicate on other electronic platforms, such as SMS and Internet Messaging. Moreover, tweets can include web links and images, hence they can act as pointers to fuller messages.

Real-time interaction

A distinct strength of Twitter is the fact that tweets are posted virtually instantaneously, which means that it facilitates conversation. Users can easily share their thoughts with their followers, which when coupled with the immediacy of the communication, can create a greater sense of community, and allows wide dissemination of information and opinions.

A straightforward news feed

Once a tweet is sent, almost immediately, it is visible in the news feeds of all of the sender’s followers. Simple. Straightforward. Unlike Facebook, the posts that make a user’s new feed is far more complex. Algorithms are used to decide which posts are seen, and by whom. Most people have no idea how they work, and whether or not, or the extent to which, their posts are disseminated throughout their network of friends.

Information sharing across networks

Most social networks are designed to allow information sharing among predefined groups, such as your friends, followers and connections. However, with Twitter, unless a tweet has been specified as private, all tweets are searchable by keywords, thus broadening the appeal and usefulness of the facility, along with its information-sharing potential. Further, existing tweets can be re-broadcast (retweeted) by the average subscriber, which again facilitates even wider dissemination.

Twitter as a news source

In recent years, much has been made about the impact of Twitter, in particular, on journalism. Reference is usually made to the fact that news channels are no longer the only source for news bulletins. Increasingly, ordinary users are posting them on Twitter first.  Hence currently, traditional news sources are frequently turning to Twitter, to identify critical events that should be covered, and as a valuable resource for updates on newsworthy issues.

Final remarks

In summary, Twitter has already begun to have a noticeable impact on how we communicate and even on how and where we turn for information. Similar to most Web 2.0 applications, but as a micro-blogging platform in particular, Twitter lowers considerably the threshold for the average person to create and to share – to 140 characters or less…

Hence although technology trends indicate that we as users want more – more bandwidth, more functionality, more speed, etc. – we also demand greater efficiency. Twitter’s simplicity and effectiveness, while still providing us access to a wealth of information, is the true source of its appeal. It appears to be fulfilling a need we might not have realised existed.