The Twitterverse:

Jessica Bourse

“What’s Twitter?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this question, I’d be rich. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’d probably have an iPod – a really, really nice iPod.

It seems in the past five years, the world has gone a-twitter. The Internet, as well as the never-ending rise in technology, has made connecting with people easier than ever. Social networking services, such as Facebook and Twitter, have taken people from different parts of the world and bound them together with a common interest, creating global communities with the click of a mouse.

Social networking is not a modern phenomenon; it is a major part of who we are as a social species. Ever since man first walked on the Earth, he has tried to communicate with his fellow human, creating languages, alphabets and art to convey his message. But how do you communicate with someone who lives far away?

One of the first courier services was created by the Egyptians around 2,000 B.C., where messengers would travel by horse or foot throughout the empire, spreading the pharaohs’ decrees – social networking was on the move.

The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used an old-fashioned version of today’s Twitter: homing pigeons. These pigeons were the direct ancestors of the urban feral birds that poop on your windshield. The birds were domesticated and then trained to travel long distances, carrying small messages written on a thin strip of paper, which was rolled up and tied to the bird’s foot. Up until the 1950s, the U.S. Army used homing pigeons to carry messages from the trenches.

“But, what is Twitter?”

Twitter is a free social networking service that works like a micro-blog. A blog, or a Web log, is an online journal, where users (or bloggers) can create entries about their lives, thoughts or interests. It is up to the blogger’s discretion when to update their blog. Twitter is considered a micro-blog because each update, also known as a “tweet,” can only be up to 140-characters long.

Twitter was designed to answer one question: What are you doing? Subscribers to your account, or followers, can receive tweets in real-time on their Twitter homepage, as a text message sent directly to their phone, or through various Twitter-friendly programs, called applications, for computers and “smart phones” such as a Blackberry or iPhone.

Compared to other social networking services, such as Facebook and Myspace, Twitter keeps it simple. Tweets are short and to the point. There are no other complex functions, like uploading photos or videos. Twitter lets users update on their phones, the Web or through other applications, making Twitter one of the most accessible services of its time.

In fact, because of its easy access and quick response time, broadcasters have been using Twitter to gather fast reactions from viewers, giving the reporters a better connection with the public.

CNN’s Rick Sanchez is an avid Twitter user, sometimes posting up to ten daily updates. Through Twitter, he chats with his followers directly, asks them questions about their thoughts on current events, and even gives the public a glimpse into his personal life. Sanchez has been known to tweet during commercial breaks and then share the viewers’ responses live on-air.

It’s not just Sanchez – other journalists use it too. In fact, Twitter has become so wide-spread in journalism, young reporters are being taught how to use this social networking service as a tool. During the 2009 Journalism Association of Community Colleges State Convention, a special workshop was presented to teach students about Twitter. From there, students twittered the entire convention.

It is becoming a journalistic tool and an innovative way to report the news – sends out real-time headlines and links to their site, giving followers instant news updates on their phones and Web browsers. Twitter also became an important political tool in 2008.

During the presidential election, candidates such as Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton and current-president Barack Obama, utilized social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with the younger voters – and no one did this better than Obama. Utilizing social networks may have helped Obama secure his candidacy, and ultimately, the presidency, because he connected directly with the public.

We have seen the rise and falls of many community-based sites such as Friendster, which is no longer popular in the Western Hemisphere, and Yahoo! 360 (rest in peace), as well as the decline in popularity of Myspace. However, the Twitterverse is expanding and it looks like it’s here to stay, for now.

That’s Twitter.