CNN: 5 ways Twitter changed how we communicate

Happy birthday, @twitter.

The groundbreaking microblogging site, which has alternately been
called a powerful tool for democracy and an emblem of all that’s wrong
with our short-attention-span digital age, turns 5 years old today.

On March 21, 2006, CEO Jack Dorsey wrote the post that started it all:
“just setting up my twttr.”

(For the record, Twitter, on its official blog, describes a message
from Dorsey that appears to have been posted a few minutes later,
“inviting coworkers,” as the first official tweet.)

Since then, the site has picked up about 200 million users, making it
one of the most-visited services on the Web.

In honor of its fifth birthday, here’s a look at five ways Twitter has
changed the digital communication game.

1. Made a fast flow of information faster

It’s decade-old news that the internet helps information — some of it
good, some of it rumors — spread fast.

With Twitter, it’s fast on steroids.

In the Twitter echo chamber, all it takes is a few users with big
follower counts to share something. With one click, those followers
share it with their own followers. And the wildfire is set ablaze.

As a result, news spreads faster than ever. Twitter’s real-time news
flow has been cited as a tool in citizen uprisings in Iran and Egypt
and as invaluable for fundraising efforts for crisis situations like
last year’s floods in Haiti.

But it also means internet hokum can go viral before anyone can put
the brakes on it.

No shortage of celebrities have “died” on Twitter, so far. And the
casualties will most likely continue to mount.

2. Removed the celebrity filter

For as long as the concept of “celebrity” has existed, there have been
people paid to keep those celebrities from looking like jackasses in

Thankfully for us, Twitter ended all that.

OK, not completely. But musicians, actors, athletes and other stars
who have taken to Twitter tend to share a lot more about themselves
than most publicists would endorse. (We’re looking at you, Charlie

And not just scandalous stuff (although we enjoyed Kanye West’s
bizarre round of self-flagellation just like everybody else).

Writers share tips and give fans a glimpse at their process. Lots of
stars chat with their followers, giving fans unprecedented access.
Photos, or even just updates on their everyday lives, let fans see
stars in a way they never could before.

The downside? You’re liable to realize that at least one of your
favorite people has terrible grammar and can’t spell.

3. Created “thought leaders”

Twitter’s list of 100 most popular accounts is dominated almost
entirely by celebrities and traditional media outlets. (We’re fond of
No. 19.)

But nestled not terribly far below are hundreds of bloggers,
podcasters and online journalists who have found a bigger audience on
Twitter than they probably would have without it.

When a single tweet puts your thoughts in front of hundreds of
thousands of people, you’re able to help set the agenda in your

4. Strengthened the “second screen”

With Twitter, nobody has to watch a TV show by themselves again.

There are mobile apps that are tailored for TV, movies and other
entertainment. But for real-time chatter, it’s hard to match Twitter.

The advent of DVRs and streaming services like Hulu and Netflix was
threatening to kill the idea that people needed to watch a show as it
aired. But with Twitter (particularly thanks to hashtags), watching a
show during air time lets you have a real-time conversation with
thousands of fellow fans.

“TV shows become events, meaning people watch them as they happen,”
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said last month. “We’re so used to creating
experiences for our users, but now our users are creating experiences
for each other.”

A telling detail? Twitter traffic increases by a factor of 30 whenever
“Glee” is on. And during this year’s Super Bowl, there were 4,000
tweets sent per second.

5. (Over)simplified the conversation

Some thoughts just can’t be summed up in 140 characters.

For all its ability to provide quick blasts of information, critics
have argued that Twitter dumbs down Web conversations that deserve to
be fuller and more fleshed out.

Some self-aware bloggers have admitted that since the site emerged,
they’re more likely to shoot out a couple of tweets on a topic than
write a full post.

And more than a few high-profile tweeters have had to come back and
explain themselves after a post on the site was misinterpreted — or
just to correct their sloppy grammar and spelling. Sometimes, they
make up words).

One flip side of Twitter’s increased celebrity access is that it
allows politicians and others in the spotlight to fire off tweets
without opening themselves up to follow-up questions or having to
fully explain their messages.

Remember all the members of Congress who tweeted during President
Obama’s 2009 economic speech instead of even pretending to pay

When the leaders of a nation are debating important issues the same
way we share a link to the latest comic from The Oatmeal, we might
have a problem.


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