Why is Twitter so Popular?

In the world of Web 2.0 applications, social networking sites and popular online meeting services such as Facebook and MySpace, it seems strange that such a similar web application would experience another meteoric rise.

Twitter, by all accounts has arrived, since its inception in 2006, to the unbelievable user-data-base of an estimated 5 million users. There is no doubt that what started as a small, micro-blogging social experiment has astounded academics and analysts by its popularity. The main question on everybody's lips is why? What makes Twitter in general and micro-blogging in particular so incredibly usable by the masses?

The concept of micro-blogging is an area that for a long time, media professionals dismissed as an unusable forum, possibly only appealing to school kids and bored housewives. It was only when the short (140 character max) messages were combined with an existing, short messaging system, SMS that the true functionality began to show its face. On the surface, it would appear that sending random bytes of information about your day, social events, or general state of mind would not hold any interest to those receiving them, particularly when they don't have the option to reply. But it does. If anything, the growing appeal of micro blogging, of which Twitter is its main conduit has highlighted a need that society clearly possesses. In a world of electronic communication and video feeds, Blackberry's and iPhones it hardly seems possible that yet another communicative application for an existing technology could fast-track so quickly. But perhaps this is the reason. 20 years ago, having a conversation with somebody meant picking up a landline telephone, writing a letter or physically meeting with them. In the modern age, the practice of "keeping in touch" has developed into an entire industry. People that we do not want to see or knew for a brief time in our lives and those that live impossibly far way can share jokes, photographs, political opinions and daily concerns at the touch of a button. Twitter has highlighted this by proving that the everyday experiences of the average Joe, need to be shared, and in addition, need to be heard by a recipient. This strange desire to update a select group of people with snippets of information feeds the need to "keep in touch". A need that, no doubt, was created by Twitter's predecessors in the form of e-mail, newsfeeds and various other communication based applications.

On the face of it, there is certainly no danger in tweeting to your heart's content if your followers are happy to receive it. Emerging studies have shown however, that as cathartic as the practice may be, it is also extremely addictive. Those of us who first discovered instant messaging and were forced to disable it for lack of concentration at work can attest to the pull of constant social interaction. In an age where self-discipline is hard to foster and even harder to maintain, micro-blogging may signal the death knell of long-term concentration. As we continue to follow the tweets of friends, families, celebrities and eventually, companies, our ability to focus on anything for an extended period of time, may diminish. Then again, this, like IM, may just absorb itself into the existing information we already gather at such high speed on a day to day basis.

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