What is Twitter? For Non-Geeks
I used to wonder the same. I never wanted to try it, either, since Twitter first came to me as being rather stupid. Now that I’ve played with it for a month, and almost passed the addiction point, I’ve realized that Twitter is actually special.
For those of you familiar with MSN, AOL, and other instant messaging (IM) software, Twitter is different from IM in two major ways. First, in Twitter, you talk with everybody. Unlike in IM where the norm is to choose only one person in your contacts list, and start a conversation with only that person, Twitter makes it default that whatever you say can be heard by anyone, whether they are your contacts or not. Sounds like you’re robbed off your privacy, eh? That’s the point of Twitter!
By opening up, you get the same feeling as when you stand at the top of a cliff and shout your lungs out. It’s that feeling of relief that probably addicts people to Twitter. As a starter, just answer the prompt, “What are you doing?”
I would like to highlight here that this is unprecedented — never before has a communication system made the act of talking to everybody as a collective whole a normal behavior. Emails, mobile SMSes, IMs, and even IRCs and forums all define that the receiver-end of communication, no matter individual or group, be specified. The fact that Twitter allows everyone to be a receiver of your messages makes it quite surreal, since it transcends the normal communication behavior in real life, where you just either talk to one person or group at a time, but never to every single person in the world.
The second difference is that Twitter is designed with people on the go in mind. Integrating closely with SMSes, Twitter lets you talk whether you’re on the way to work, in a meeting, feeling lonely at a book stand, or wading through a crowd of party-goers at the local pub. It’s as easy as sending and receiving SMS. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there are always people listening to you closely on Twitter.
Because of this close knit to everyday life, Twitter can also be used to get answers. It can be thought of as a search engine powered by people. Just ask a question, and more often than not you’ll get a reply from one of the other Twitter-ers just like you. The reply is usually more accurate than search engines, too, since real people are answering them, not computers. This goes for virtually all types of questions, from which graphics card to buy, to where the best parties are happening.
Hope this introduction gives you a good overview of Twitter.