Twitter is like Radio, Only Different

It’s easy to understand if you put it in your context. In Radio, you have air time, callers phoning up to give you feedback and your real-time response to that feedback during the show. People can tune in to the show if they want to hear what you’re talking about. You’re constrained by the air time of your show, that is, you can only say what you can say within that time span and the rest will have to wait for the next opportunity, which is the next show. Your show consists of your own discretionary content that you wish to share with Radioland. You could choose to talk about exercise, food, sports, politics, what you’re wearing, whatever you want, it’s your show. You talk into a mic and the magic of radio brings it to the folks like me in their vehicles.

Twitter can be thought of in much the same fashion:

  • Instead of being constrained by air time, you’re constrained by characters typed, specifically 140 of them. Each 140-character-or-less chunk of text is called a “tweet”, whereas each timespan of radio is called a “show”.
  • The content is purely discretionary. I can choose to tweet about anything from what I’m wearing to my general mood to writing recipes and helping Iran’s democracy.
  • People can “tune in” by “following me”, which is to say they can receive my tweets specifically (sort of like email, but in mostly-real-time). With Radio, you can tune in to one show at a time, but with Twitter you can “tune in” to many “shows” at the same time. They get shuffled together in real time and you can read the stream of information at your own pace.
  • While in Radio you have callers giving you feedback, with Twitter, your followers (or random Twitter users) can respond to something you wrote through a “referral”. Suppose you tweeted “Man, I hate traffic on the belt line at 8am!”, I could respond to you with “@mitchhenck yeah, traffic’s a real pain! But if you get off at Park, it’s clear sailing to the square!”. “@mitchhenck” can be read as “AT Mitch Henck”, that is to say, “this tweet’s for you!” (sorta like this bud’s for you, only without the unappealing weight gain).
  • Anyone following you can see it. Just like in radio, anyone listening can hear the callers-in (except the ones filtered out by your staff, of course). Which leads to the next idea, direct messages, like if your wife called into the show to tell you not to forget to pick up that extra strong toilet plunger at Walgreens on the way home, which you wouldn’t want all your listeners to hear about 😉
  • People can re-broadcast your show by taping it and playing it for their friends at Sunday brunch, but with Twitter, you’d rebroadcast a tweet using “RT”, as in “RT @mitchhenck Can’t believe wife needs the extra strong toilet plunger today of all days! What did the kids get into this time?” Sometimes adding their own comment: “ROFL RT @mitchhenck found out it was a drown python of all things! How’d the kids get a python!? How’d it get in the toilet!??” Twitter being constrained by characters, I’d choose to say “ROFL” instead of “Rolling on the floor laughing”, which of course, I’m not really doing, but expressing an idea, you see.
  • Twitter makes it possible to share audio, video and pictures with your followers and the general internet just like Radio… er, sorta like Radio. With radio you’d tell your listeners to call in and submit your address so you could send out an autographed picture of you at the grill roasting eggplants, rather than a little post from DestroyTwitter.
  • With Radio, you, well, have a radio tuner to listen with. With Twitter, you have many choices to view with. Primarily, you can view tweets through a web browser (like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari). But the real deal are the stand alone clients for mobile and desktop computers. They make ’em for iPhone, Blackberry, Mac, PC, Linux and even Typewriters. With clients, you are free to follow both users and topics (#icereamr00lz), along with loads of other options per client.

Twitter becomes interesting through the use of what’s known as a “hashtag” which is a keyword prefixed by the “#” symbol, like “#stupidteentricks” or “#golf” or “#whyarealiensgoingthroughmygarbage”. People stick these in a tweet to provide search context. Suppose I’m really into aliens getting into people’s garbage. I could use twitter search to find “#whyarealiensgoingthroughmygarbage” and it would provide me real-time search results of that keyword. I could then “follow” this live search result to know about anyone ever having problems with aliens in their garbage. Then I could tweet them and make friends, starting community. “@roswelln00b geez aliens in the gar’ge again? wtf? wanna come over for a bbq 2nite?” This kinda thing can never happen with radio because people don’t know who else is listening. Twitter’s great while watching a sporting event (#superbowlXX), an important announcement (#CaronWedding2009) or while watching TV (#loveboat).

The whole naming convention comes from the birds. Birds are out there 24-7 just chirping away, tweet tweet tweet. They chirp here. They chirp there. But it’s all out in the open and any bird can hear it. To listen to the whole thing all at once is pretty confusing. But to certain birds, paying attention to certain other birds, certain tweets make sense. That’s how Twitter works. All these people blasting 140-character bits of thought out into the internet for whomever cares to read, some paying attention to others more carefully. That’s why Lance Armstrong can find a stolen bike within days.

Here’s hoping for the social network of the future, “YouTwitFace” (thanks Conan!).


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