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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How twitter powers this nerd

Twitter started its life as an online short messaging service wherein people can broadcast anything they want to say in 140 characters or less  and can subscribe (‘follow’) to messages from people of their interest. There was confusion initially on where exactly the service would fit having Facebook/Orkut like social applications doing them already. The Iranian revolution happened and the architecture of the application funneled sharing of news, information and media from the revolution, exposing the dark side of autocratic governance. Even the biggest of cable and satellite media in the United States featured news sections concentrating on tweets from the epicenter and used them on public debates.This was a major marketing boom that spiraled the service so much that the downs due to system overload were frequent then.

I gave twitter a try out of curiosity and started following interesting individuals on areas that I love the most, like fictional writing and sports. Everything changed when I got to know the twitter handles of many well known database book authors as following them made me get to know small snippets of their life, the little problems they faced and they way they tackled it. The PR people for companies whose tools I use frequently helped me in staying abreast releases of both technical and documentation content from their corps (@susvis from IBM).

I then discovered all my favorite Formula 1 commentators’ handles. There were tons of links to their columns and other ones of related interest. Rails geeks followed and then  the official tweeters of grand slam tennis and the God of Cricket Sachin Tendulkar’s(@sachin_rt). I started making new friends and having live chats during sports events like the Cricket World cup and the Football Champions league finals. I follow what Ferrari guys think of during an event in a race by refreshing their tweets.

After twitter introduced the lists I have moved almost all of the handles under their correct lists but tend to keep my friends and few very important people under my main page. I have more than 8 lists spanning from database development to Formula 1 to Soccer to Science to Startups to Celebrities from India .
So I thought of writing about how different ways is twitter important in my everyday life. It can be described in two pillars,

Seeking knowledge/staying abreast

  • News – I follow Dallas Morning news (@dallas_news) , The Hindu (@thehindu), Times Of India(@timesofIndia), The news hour from Times now(@thenewshour)
  • Sports – around 30 the major ones being – Jerrad Peters for soccer (@peterssoccer), The Wimbledon (@wimbledon), Roland Garros – French open tennis championship (@rolandgarros), Steve Slater (@steveslatorf1) and tons more
  • Links – I use twitter to follow serial entrepreneurs and popular hackers in Software industry (David Heinemeier Hansson). They post the best discussions and links to tons of knowledge and information ranging to newest puzzles and sorting algorithms to inspirational stuff. Reading first hand information on success of a business gives me a high. This is a major area twitter helps me with, I favorite these links and it naturally becomes another del.ici.ous integrated inside twitter. I usually favorite between 20-40 links a week and spend my Saturday mornings going through them.
  • I also dig into interesting people’s favorites and have found amazing articles in them. I got to know about the sci-fi author Dan Simmons through one of the fellow fan’s favorite list and I am addicted to his books since then.
  • Friends – don’t want to spend time to load the email app on your smartphone or send texts that are costly? Tweet a friend and it becomes an asynchronous chat server. I have got amazing new friends from this service, ones ranging from cool soft-designers(@sparklinguy) to great bloggers on social media(@shonali).

There are also shopping sites that publish latest inclusions based on categories in twitter every day which can be of more help for the Womenfolk than men but yes, it is out there J So in this interesting time wherein we read news of hookups and breakups published online or discussions about popularity based on the number of ‘Likes’ a person’s pictures gets on a certain site we can be responsible and use these great tools in the betterment of everything we do.

Vs Facebook ?

A main factor that was responsible for the explosive growth of twitter(1 million apps have been implemented for the web application by July 7 2011) is its architecture itself. Sharing lines of data one after the other reduces noise which are mainly the comments from the people connected in your network graph, which is the main reason for the clunky nature of it’s rival, the Facebook. This in turn aided to twitter’s growth while hindering the spread of Facebook in mobile devices. It takes a lot of time and network to bring up some 10 updates from your ‘friends’ in your stream than ten tweets from your fellow twitheads. Rendering embedded photos and videos add to the injury for uneasy experience using Facebook in mobile devices. Why would you need to see every photo or video shared by every friend of yours when all you want to know is what they are about. This is where twitter’s link sharing mechanism is advantageous. It allows to custom load of objects on demand. I never liked to scroll down 20 times to see around 10 updates in Facebook with many of them being irrelevant pictures and the comments from people you would not be too interested to care about. It is ‘to the point’ in case of twitter, people can comment on your friends’  tweets but it doesn't get listed in your stream. Also the bloated and slow mobile app from Facebook does not help the cause either. Twitter stands far better chance in higher adoption in Mobile market than Facebook or even the new Google+ which is like a mash between Twitter Groups and Facebook.


The great area where twitter helps with businesses is the ability to connect with the customers. The #hashtag method it uses has introduced a way to follow what the users tell about a product. This has led to many Public Relations executives to invest heavily on twitter. PR marathon chats wherein they chat with users and discuss about their products are frequent now. This is a win-win situation wherein users and companies hear each others’ thoughts. Business development, marketing and social engineering has gotten a fresh arsenal from this simple application.But #Ireallygetmad from the #insignificantrantsjusttoaddahashtag and am getting madder by the day as this culture is gaining fellowships.


As with anything in this world there are also grey areas where twitter is trying to clean up. We don’t have any parental controls yet to stop young kids from following handles that dwell on content that are unsafe for them. There are tons of pornographic handles that distributes links to videos, images and there are handles that promise specific content but pass on viruses or Trojans, much in the anonymizer space. It would definitely help if they can come up with a ‘18+ years or older’ policy like the one in YouTube and Google+.

Another problem is the ‘Online dis-inhibition effect’ wherein folks feel that they have the right to treat people in a way that they would never do in real life. People say and do things online that they wouldn't normally say or do in the real world. Researchers call this the "dis-inhibition effect." It's a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign dis-inhibition. Sometimes there are toxic dis-inhibition where in people use  rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats. What is the reason for this? Is it because we are more anonymous online than in real world? Or is it because it is our real self that is tied up from spilling out acid in real world suddenly feels relaxed and powerful due to the nature of the web? Twitter is filled in with tweets resulting from toxic dis-inhibition, I myself got a tweet saying asking me to “Shut up’ from a follower who I have never met, just because I was live tweeting about an event. This is not something that the makers of twitter can handle, it is just the way we are. Not all hope is lost as crowd sourcing is heavily employed to upend anonymity online. It took just 24 hours to find the person who looted shops and set cars on fire during the Vancouver Stanley cup playoff riot, identified in YouTube after a person from general public shot the video and posted online, and two days to identify the ‘kissing couple’ during the riots. ( The pervasive social media sites and cheap photo/video hardware have led to this change, but debate rages on the line to be drawn to stop violation of one’s privacy.

The third and an annoying one are the bots – autonomous programs that are meant to mimic a user to spread content. They ‘follow’ you automatically and message you links that may or may not be toxic, but as a push marketing campaign. You can send away door to door marketers but what about these? I use a service called truetwit ( wherein any user who follows you will be taken to a website where they would be checked for ‘real’ person by image/speech recognition test.

So here lie the cards, twitter is a very powerful medium to connect with people and is a vast knowledge plane but filled with problems rising from anonymity and unfenced adult subjects. I am a huge propagandist of twitter and hope you will give it a try and in the process get benefited out of it.