Monday, February 16, 2009

Twitter

Last week, one of my journalism classes was assigned to join Twitter, a social networking site that allows users to "micro-blog" and tell what they are doing, as they are doing it, in 140 characters or less.

At the start, I wasn't pleased. I'd heard a little about the site even before I got to Mizzou, so I got a distinctly user-based perspective. In my mind, Twitter was an exercise in self-aggrandizement.

For me the initial resistance comes from the personal uses of Twitter. Is it important or helpful for people to know that I'm hungry right now? Or that I just woke up? Or that I'm debating between the Asics or the Puma shoes? When I first heard about Twitter (outside the J-school) it was in the context of using it to inform all of your friends (and/or strangers) what you're doing as you're doing it. For extended, detailed personal use, I'm having a hard time seeing it as more useful than it is unhelpful because I think that people could be doing something a little more productive with their time.

The obvious question might be, "Who wants to read about my daily life anyway?" But more than that, do I really want people cyber-following me so closely?

It all comes back to something I've been thinking a lot lately. The speed of information turnover, while at times a good thing, can also be horribly overwhelming, and hourly personal tweets are more than I need to deal with.

BUT, from the short time that I've been a Twitter user, I can see some good things for journalism. It definitely can be helpful in terms of identifying trends, coming up with story ideas, and creating conversations with our audience. So I guess you could say that my initial perceptions have been challenged.

In the end we need to be concerned with what helps us tell the story. So if Twitter is another way of doing that, let's check it out. I'm willing to have an open mind and to learn. But that doesn't mean that there aren't still some issues of balance that concern me.

For more info (and a different take on the Twitter issue), check out the blog of Jen Reeves, an especially forward-thinking member of the Mizzou faculty.

Also, an interesting New York Times article from David Pogue who, like me, had his doubts upon first joining.

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