Last month, a colleague of mine attended the South by Southwest conference, a techno-lovefest that brings together software developers, graphic designers and a gaggle of luminaries of various persuasions. The big news, according to him, is that Twitter has come of age. (For a good explanation of Twitter see here.)
I wrote about Twitter once. I was not kind. Twitter is a micro-blogging service to which you post messages ("tweets") of no more than 140 characters, which isn't much in the English language. Friends, relations and the vaguely disturbed can subscribe to your feed, through which you're expected to reveal the details of your day. ("Sitting down...eating lunch...feeling bored...scratching hard.") My feeling about Twitter was that 1) I've got no time to record the details of my life because I'm too busy living it and 2) anyone who wants to follow my day-to-day activities desperately needs some day-to-day activities of his own.
How wrong I was. It turns out that some users are posting their thoughts, not their activities. In fact, there's a huge hive mind out there around Web 2.0: All (or most) or its members subscribe to all (or most) of the other members' Twitter streams. Thoughts appear, bounce around, scatter and coalesce. Apparently, reading blogs is no longer enough: By the time something hits the blogs, it's old news. If you really want to keep up, you have to use Twitter.
Twitter's even hit the classroom: Professor David Parry over at academHacK (Tech Tools for Academics) has successfully used Twitter to create "community" among his students (such that they're more respectful toward one another during class); to continue discussions after class; and to get instant feedback from his students during lecture prep. Instant feedback seems to be a key feature of Twitter: Ask a question, get an answer almost immediately. Further, it's possible to subscribe to a word and get any Tweets that contain that word--an easy way to find people with interests similar to yours.
I'm violently in favor of hive minds–I feel that raising the planet's collective IQ is our only hope. On the other hand, I don't look forward to having one more thing to do during the day. I'll have to give something up. Maybe eating lunch...or scratching hard.