Twitter: why you should try it out

Thanks to Cliff Krieger for doing a post about Twitter. Since Cliff mentions me as one who tweets, my intended comment grew into a post of its own:

As I said in a comment to Paul’s recent post about blogging, history teaches us that new technology becomes available to us long before we understand how to best use it. Twitter is the perfect example of that. To me, it’s the internet equivalent of the Swiss Army knife.

Today, Twitter serves as my primary news feed. The BBC, CNN, ESPN, even the Lowell Sun, all tweet about their big stories and breaking news with embedded links to their own sites. By scrolling through my Twitter feed either on the computer or my phone, I learn what’s going on in the world in just a few seconds.

Twitter also has enormous potential to become the dominant tool in very local news reporting by citizen journalists. Because you can launch a tweet via text message, a phone app, or from some other device or computer, you always have access to it. As you go about your day, whenever you observe something interesting – whether it’s a traffic backup, the onset of rain, or a bit of political news you just heard – launch a tweet and your followers will be kept better informed.

Decades ago my job title in the US Army was “tactical intelligence officer” which meant I was supposed to keep track of what the other guys were doing. Because the military is obsessed with acronyms, I typically worked in a place called the ASIC which stood for “All Source Intelligence Center” (which was either in a window-less room or the back of an armored personnel carrier). “All source” meant just that: we had access to satellite imagery, radio intercepts and all manner of sophisticated collection systems. But often, the most useful information came from the guy on the front line with his “push-to-talk” FM radio. He was the eyewitness observer and his observations always counted for a lot.

To me, a perceptive citizen with a cell phone and a Twitter account is the community equivalent of that front line troop sending reports over the radio. This vision is still a ways off, because it requires a critical mass of contributors who are comfortable using Twitter.

But we have to start somewhere. If you haven’t done so already, sign up for a free Twitter account and then “follow” me at (my most recent tweets appear in the upper right sidebar of this blog). Once you’ve done that, click on the list of those I follow, and pick the ones of interest to you. And then do a Tweet. You’re limited to 140 characters so it has to be brief, but that’s one of the strengths of Twitter. Try it out. And if you’re already a Twitter pro, share your observations and suggestions with the rest of us.

4 Responses to Twitter: why you should try it out

  1. Bob Forrant says:

    As an historian who spends hours deep in the preserved records of the past, sifting through newspapers, letters, diaries, and all sorts of stuff that helps me to understand a past period of time, I worry about the extent to which we will n longer have written records left behind. For the longest time it was difficult to write US history through any other lens that of the eyes of the so-called great men, mainly presidents and other big shots who carefully preserved a significant portion of their letters, diaries and other ruminations for posterity.

    Fortunately numerous archivists began collecting union records, working class newspaper, pamphlets, petitions, etc and folks like me could begin to piece together what had once been a quite hidden history.

    Since lots of these new fangled technologies (I have an Ipad!) fall mainly into the hands of the moneyed, even though cell phones are ubiquitous, what will get saved? How much of the so-called twitter revolution in Egypt will be available 50 years from now. What of the cell phone videos and photos – where will they be in 50 years?

    After spending what to me anyway was a delightful day yesterday in Lawrence thinking about how to convey what life was like there in the eve of what turned out to be a massive textile workers’ strike in 1912, I worry about these things. Yesterday I put my hands on all sorts of physical memories, the clubs used by the police, the multi-language posters calling workers to a strike meetings at a neighborhood ethnic club or bar room, buttons, old newspapers.

    And I even walked through the Everett Mill where the strike began trying to conjure up the noise and emotion workers must have felt as they fought for their right to a decent living against heavy odds and left their jobs in the dead of a harsh January.

    Just some thoughts for the conversation.


  2. Marianne says:

    The Library of Congress is archiving every public tweet posted since Twitter’s inception in 2006. I find this fascinating because the archives will capture things like the Twitter Revolution in Egypt along with a lot of slice of life tweets about what people had for dinner, movies they saw, snarky town slogans, etc…

  3. Bob Forrant says:

    Marianne I hope this is really the case – but the mind boggles here at the Justin Beiber stuff a researcher might find and how it will express the tenor of our times. And, my apprehension grows at the ‘big brother’ nature of this prospect. Though, I always assume someone somewhere can read any emails I send, good, bad, and indifferent about persons, places and things including when I, in an uncensored fit, might heaven forbid, criticize my UMass employers:)

  4. Marianne says:

    Bob: Here’s the link to the LoC’s blog post and FAQ:

    I often chuckle thinking about what future humans will judge as important to our current society based on things like Twitter – what will they make of the Bieber Fever epidemic ;-)

    I also just assume that any and everything that I post online is public. I keep my Facebook status updates, etc. set as private/friends only but at the same time assume that what I post is public and would never post anything that I wouldn’t want my parents/grandparents/employer to see. I think that’s the new reality of our wired world.