Suffering from a short attention span? Don’t worry, there’s still hope. A new, mobile social-networking site lets you know in 140 characters or less what your friends are doing – via cell phone or computer. It’s called Twitter, and everyone from Darth Vader impersonators to Barack Obama is using it.
This March, Twitter will celebrate its third anniversary, and there’s reason to celebrate: It has been ranked by Complete.com as the third largest social-networking site behind Facebook and MySpace. If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, take this crash-course on Twitter jargon before reading on. “Twitter” is both a noun and a verb. A “tweet” is a 140-character update. An “@reply” is a public reply to a tweet. To “follow” someone is to receive their updates on your homepage. To be “favrd” is to have a gold star affixed to your tweet. All set? Read on.
With the username “ShuffShuff,” Lauren Shuffleton ’12 is an extremely prolific Twitterer with over 1,492 updates. Her tweets appear on the homepages of 347 people from around the world, and, unlike Facebook, almost all of these people are perfect strangers to her in the real world. Shuffleton tweets about her pursuits, both academic (“Where, iTunes, did you get the idea that the genre for my Arabic-learning CDs was Alternative and Punk?”) and personal (“I just shed a tear at the intro to the video for Ã¢â‚¬ËœNo Rain.’ I’m so grateful for the scapegoat of PMS”).
Through such witty and self-described “snarky” tweets, Shuffleton has found her niche online. “In the circle that I’m in, we have Ã¢â‚¬ËœFollow Friday’ where we post names of people we like,” she said. “There’s another site called Ã¢â‚¬ËœFAVRD’ [that lists] people who favored your tweet, and there’s a leader board. We laugh about the ego boost it is.”
Shuffleton has been Facebook messaging four of the aforementioned Twitter friends. “There’s one guy [who] lives a couple of hours from me,” she said.
However, Shuffleton’s online followers are tempered by her real-life ones. Nick Pugliese ’12 was introduced to Shuffleton’s Twitter by the author herself. “We were talking about creative writing, and it came up that she did this,” he said. “She actually didn’t want me to check it out because she’s a little shy about it, although she’s not a shy person.”
When Pugliese learned about her Twitter, he read it from beginning to end. Culling through her past entries, he found one tweet about the male gender that he and his roommate Rigo Francisco Ruiz-Bonilla ’12 shared a laugh over: “You know how it’s kind of confusing and sexy when he speaks in a foreign language? That’s how it’s like for me when the boy talks math.” Pugliese has toyed with the idea of getting his own Twitter, and says he would have tweeted about the “Blue Ball” held on Valentine’s Day if he had one.
Another fan of Shuffleton’s Twitter? Her parents. Her privacy-advocating mom “wasn’t too thrilled” when she found out about it a couple of months ago. Now, her mom’s e-mails often reference her most recent tweets. “I don’t do anything that’s too revealing,” Shuffleton said. But she did admit that when she first established herself on Twitter, the combination of honesty and anonymity was “liberating.”
So can this micro-blogging service that is smart and useful be necessary as well?
On April 10 of last year, a University of California-Berkeley graduate student named James Karl Buck helped free himself from an Egyptian jail through Twitter. When he was in Mahalla, Egypt covering an anti-government protest, he was arrested and put in jail. On the way to the police station, Buck texted a one-word tweet: “Arrested,” and his followers mobilized to contact the U.S. Embassy and the media, so that Buck was soon freed.
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, has used his own service to communicate with his colleagues during earthquakes. And Shuffleton herself has used Twitter to receive updates on power outages in her hometown of East Hampstead, N.H.
As things seem calmer in Williamstown, for the time being, Shuffleton’s recent tweets aim to offer some indirect feedback to the Office of Campus Life: “Live band, balloon animals, massages, tie-dye, food. Second grade birthday party? Nope. De-stressing at the student center during final weeks.”