Aunt B is a recent twitter convert and not really getting it. I confess I am still sorta borderline myself. But, I have a long history of scoffing at innovative ideas early on and then looking like an idiot later. When Mirabilis came out with ICQ, my friend Nick showed it to me. “Hey cool,” he said, “you can message people in realtime!!” “Big deal,” I scoffed, scoffingly, “there’s a little thing called talk(1) in UNIX that has existed practically forever.”

So, twitter has been something recently I’ve been trying to keep an open mind about. What is it? Wikipedia says: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send “updates” (or “tweets”; text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) to the Twitter website, via short message service, instant messaging, or a third-party application. Okay, but. What is it, really?

I think of twitter as basically a web-based chatroom where you have everyone on ignore by default. The interesting thing about it is that not everyone thinks of it that way. Some people treat it as microblogging and only visit it periodically. Conversely, some people have twitter piped right to their IM client and treat it as another form of instant messaging. (Interestingly, I have a feeling these people annoy the piss out of the former folks.) So far, I’m ambivalent. It’s cool every once in a while for rapid dissemination of information, or relaying info to a person but giving other people an opportunity to comment on it. Like I said, it’s like a web-based chatroom that can be piped into other mediums (email, web, XMPP/jabber, SMS, etc). I use it primarily via jabber, but the trick is knowing when to shut it off. When I’m heads-down working at the office, I just can’t handle the deluge of updates on who’s drinking what caffeineated beverage at the moment or whatever.

You can also discriminate who you get IM notifications from and who you don’t, which is sortof nice. So, in conclusion, I think it’s a neat technology – the crux of it being that it’s basically a method for disseminating information through a gateway that makes it available in whatever medium you want: IM, SMS, Web, etc. The only problem with it I see is that it’s centralized in one commercial entity. And that it can get really annoying. But I’m learning that the trick is realizing you can control fairly well what you don’t get, what you do get, and how you get it.