Friday, September 05, 2008

So does this make Stephen Harper a twit?

So I'm not up on the hip new terms for all the breaking technology out there, but I'm just wondering today, if Stephen Harper has embraced the world of twitter, does that thus make him a twit?

What do you call a person who regularly posts his one line thoughts on the latest craze in the world of the Internet anyways?

With an election campaign just days away (though unofficially clearly underway judging by the amount of smiling Stephens I count on my television screen each day), the Prime Minister is getting the word out with his own twitter account. No doubt we'll soon be getting electronic messages suggesting that we become a facebook friend as well, soon we fear there will be nowhere that we can hide from the political types.

So far it's a mixed reaction to his introduction to the world of instant thought reading, the comments on the Globe and Mail article which outlined Mr. Harpers commune with the computer literate are worthy of their own twitter entries we're sure...

Harper joins the Web's twittering class
Comments (8)
From Friday's Globe and Mail

September 4, 2008 at 10:00 PM EDT

If there was any lingering doubt that the curious blogging phenomenon called Twitter has gone mainstream, it dissipated the moment that Stephen Harper signed up.

For the past couple of years, this most peculiar of communications techniques has been gaining strength in the online world, that vast yet insular community of people who love the Web for the Web's sake. Twitter is all about issuing tiny, one-line blog posts, and in short order, the Web's chattering class became its twittering class.

Yet there comes a point in the life of every successful social network when it finishes incubating and erupts into the general population. So it was that Harper opened a Twitter account. He made his first post this week, beside a picture of him smiling his helmet-headed smile: "Check out the new Conservative Party website. …"

I have every confidence the message was carefully pecked out with two fingers by Harper himself, after a day of padding around 24 Sussex in his loafers, wondering how to use social media. Perish the thought that it could have been a Tory operative, wondering if there was a cooler way to issue press releases.

Like rats scurrying up the ropes before an ocean liner departs, politicians have sharp noses for knowing when to hop aboard a trend. It's not just Harper. Barack Obama Twitters. All told, the Twitter population has passed the two-million mark. In the middle of its hurricane coverage, CNN anchors were directing viewers to the network's Twitter page.

People who have nothing to do with the world of blogs or computers are starting to sign up, spreading the social network ever outward. The same process that we witnessed with Facebook — which originated in the student world before suddenly surging into the mainstream in 2007 — is repeating itself.

Twitter is a microblog — a blog that's made up of small entries. Very small, in fact: Each Twitter entry can be no more than 140 characters long — not coincidentally, the maximum length of a cellphone text message. Because Twitter updates can be posted via text message, they can be fired off from any cellphone.

On top of this, Twitter has features that would be more at home on a social network. Since 140-character postings make meagre reading on their own, the idea with Twitter is to group all your friends' Twitter postings and read them together.

Twitter users "follow" each other, subscribing to one anothers' postings. Unlike regular blogs, Twitter publicizes how many followers each user has accrued, giving the service that popularity-contest flavour that has powered the growth so many social networks before it. Twitterers can also direct their public messages at one another, so that they can have a publicly-viewable back-and-forth conversation.

What people actually do on Twitter is another matter entirely. Everyone seems to use it differently. A lot of Twitter users — especially the larger institutions that have jumped on board, like CNN, the New York Times, and, well, the Conservatives — use it as a news ticker, with every miniature entry linking to a longer story.

In this "Look What You Can Do With Twitter" phase, no application is too strange or redundant. One journalist is writing a Twitter novel, serialized in 140-character chapters. There have been Twitter marriage proposals and Twitter job applications. American grad student James Karl Buck, who was arrested in an Egyptian protest, helped his own release from prison in part by firing off a one-word message — "arrested" — to his network, which rallied instant support from overseas.

For others, Twitter is the new home for old-school autobiographical blogging. One of the earliest social effects of that phenomenon was to draw out members of the population who feel the need to tell you what they had for lunch, and have the conviction that the trifles on their minds are interesting to others. It was easy to deride, but fun to read.

Twitter takes that spirit and condenses it to its essence. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, passing thoughts, co-workers, headaches, what the cat coughed up. And more power to it — if you're going to publicize the minutia of your life, why belabour the point?

If Twitter seems like a variation on a theme we've seen over and over, that's because it is. It is just like everything else on the Web, but it's shorter and there's more of it. You could accuse Twitter of duplicating the functionality of everything from the telegraph to Facebook.

But then, Facebook has become endemic to the online population, and we're ready and willing to be swept by a new, slightly novel fever. Don't miss out! The Prime Minister could be at his desk, pecking out another message as we speak.

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