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Coming to Terms with Twitter

About a year ago, I wrote an article on Twitter. More specifically, how much I hated the service. A year later, I’ve changed my mind.

I’ll tell people that I started my Twitter account for the newspaper, but this is a half-truth at best. I was interested in Twitter’s real function, something that I couldn’t see from the outside, apart from watching #belieber scroll about as a trending topic. So, still reluctantly, I signed up for an account.

For the first two months I did my best to avoid broadcasting this fact. I told a few select friends before even telling my family, for fear of the retribution. This was not entirely unjustified, as when I eventually did tell my brother, I was ridiculed. At the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what to do with the website even though I had one. Even messaging people confused me at first, with hashtags and links making me cross-eyed.

Yet over those first days of Twitter, I began to witness what makes Twitter so compelling to many. One morning, I woke up to find #Japan trending on my newsfeed, and I learned about the earthquake and concurrent tsunami before it even made news in the United States. I also watched the rise of the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, the new iPhone announcement and, the day afterwards, the death of its creator Steve Jobs.

The way everyone uses Twitter is different from person to person. For me, I use it as a personalized news aggregator. I follow primarily news sources (Reuters, NYTimes, etc.) that let me keep plugged into what’s happening in the world way before the same stories will break as even news. I’ve allowed Twitter to crowdsource the coverage of news for me. This seems to be the true power of Twitter.

The service is in the process of becoming a sort of flowing internet-consciousness. Due to instant updates by millions of users globally, the site demonstrates an engagement with mass perspectives in a way that Facebook, Google+ or any other social network doesn’t have the capability to match. Studies have shown that trending topics can provide insight into what captures the public’s awareness, allowing us a glimpse into the formation of the social zeitgeist.

This is not to say that all of Twitter is useful, though. Much of the site remains useless, merely background noise and useless commentary on sandwiches and shower temperatures. I still refuse to follow any celebrities or any of the multitudes of humor sites (The Onion being the exception), and though I’ve worked on people I know on the site, there just aren’t enough to justify using it as a personal connection.

It comes down to this: a year later, and I’ve adopted Twitter. I’m not entirely converted, though; it will be long before I hold it up as the premier social network, but I’ve seen that due to Twitter’s adaptability, the site represents many things to many people. This in itself is a strength.

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