Twitter is the world’s favorite 140-character playground. A phenomenon that started out as an exclusive club of techies and geeks, and ended up conquering the public sphere as a whole. Many have praised the service for being a path to democracy and an enabler in a digital age. But it’s true beauty may lie in that it’s as different as its users - all 400 million of them.
Social media powerhouse Twitter is sends out one billion tweets every three days, making it the very pulse of a digital generation.
With more than 400 million active users and 30 official languages, the network is a “beautiful asymmetric network of follows and followers that creates infinite information streams,” says Karen Wickre aka @kvox, Editorial Director of Twitter.
Wickre joined Twitter in 2011 after seeing potential in the service already back in 2008 when she first started tweeting herself. As a news junkie she realized that the micro-blogging service was on its way to creating something very big.
She was right. In 2008 Twitter sent out 27 tweets per second. In 2012, that number had increased to 12,333.
In the same time, Twitter became “a second screen for major live events, like sports, the Oscars and breaking news.”
Anyone who has been seated with eyes on the TV and their thumps on their smartphone’s “refresh” button during #Oscars, #SuperBowl or #WorldCup will know just how true this is.
The hashtag itself has proven a revolution for the digitalized social conversation. To use a fitting metaphor, Wickre says that it has become “like a campfire that people can gather around to see what the conversation is about.”
The true beauty of Twitter, however, is that it can be used in millions of different ways.
Power-tweeting journos, Arab revolutionaries and soccer moms are all part of a digitalized neuron network that has come to define the globalized world. There is no right or wrong.
“Find a rhythm that is comfortable for you,” Wickre tells her audience as the workshop comes to an end. That way, she adds, you will be sure to get the best out of the service, whether you are a seasoned news addict or a curios beginner.
As she steps off the podium, her words have already reached thousands of users across the globe - in cyberspace, through tweets and retweets, fueling the campfire and carrying on the conversation.
Before Lady Gaga became the most famous woman in the world, she was just a singer. And like many singers, she had trouble getting radio stations to play her stuff. Then David Fincher made “The Social Network”. Coming out of a screening of the film, Lady Gaga called her manager, Troy Carter, and said she had an idea.
That idea — to engage with people over social networks — resulted in her becoming the single most followed user on Twitter. Lady Gaga is now a symbol of what happens when celebrities engage with social media. It raises their profile to stratospheric levels. It gves fans a chance to really engage with artists. It makes people like Lady Gaga at once more human and more starry. It is, in short, a great idea.
But there’s a catch. “You have to use to connect with fans, not to sell sell sell,” said Mr Carter. The attempts at engagement need to be authentic. They need to speak with a real “voice”. Now, Mr Carter is investing a new way to engage, which is being built by Matthew Michelsen. It is called Backplane and Mr Michelsen promises it will give people a brand new tool to create communities. It’s hard to understand without seeing it, they said, encouraging peolpe to check out their website.
Technology is changing every aspect of life today and the world politics is certainly not an exception. Young IT experts are getting into the traditional bureaucratic world and they represent a new force that uses IT innovation to improve communication and government transparency. Some of them came to DLD today.
“Technology has brought a great power shift from hierarchy to citizens and network of citizens. What happened in Arab Spring is just the manifesto of that,” said Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Khaled El-mufti, a Libyan digital activist shared his experience that added a new perspective to the discussion. The Gadhaffi regime blocked Internet access in a bid to control the spread of uprising. Getting Internet back was then the priority. “In the Western context, social networking sites are often used for daily communication and leisure time, but in countries like Libya, they are platforms to let families know that you are alive” said the moderator Felix Marquardt. However, mobile phone provided an alternative. El-mufti and his team managed to reconfigure the mobile phone network and make the million registered users to reconnect to the internet via phones.
”The level of energy I felt in Libya was amazing.” described Nicolas Princen from his own trip to the country. Princen is an advisor for New Media and Information Technology at the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy, and he argues that in the case of Libya, the first priority is to build internet infrastructure and then, to ensure access to social network and service.
“Open exchange of information can have an impact on the world. There are voices to be heard and amplified, no matter where you are” commented Katie Stanton, the vice president of Twitter. She said it was remarkable the way twitter was used during the Arab Spring, or by the South Sudan government, the youngest in the world, to get the messages heard by the world.
Changes are also taking place in Britain. Rohan Silva, Senior Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, said although his government pioneers in publishing data and crow-sourcing public input into legislation, but itself still need to learn how to make use of the open data. “It is as if no Digital Revolution has ever happened in Downing Street No. 10”, said Silva who is now working on an iPad application for Prime Minister better use the government data available to him.
Close to the end, Alex Ross raised an important issue that while technology empowers individual to speak out, it can also facilitate the evil when in the wrong people’s hand. In the US, he said, the state has invested $70 dollar to protect individuals just with technology. “The Panic Button’” for instance, can be used to delete contacts and communication stored in the mobile phone.
In front of a packed DLD conference room, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey took questions from journalists Holger Schmidt of FOCUS magazine and David Kirkpatrick of Wired on the direction of the fast-paced social platform.
“In 2012, what is most important to Twitter: more users or more revenue? And you can’t say both”, warned Schmidt.
“Both”, replied Dorsey, to trigger laughter in the audience.
Revenue, he explained, is important to Twitter because it allows the company to grow, to further develop and become better. This, in turn, works to attract more users.
Twitter recently acquired Summify, a canadian company that works to curate content online and cut through the over supply of links and information in each user’s stream. When asked about what priority distribution has over destination of the content -meaning, users remain in Twitter.com -, Dorsey said that the line is blurry, since tweets are now ubiquitous and can be found outside Twitter.com.
The biggest value of Twitter is that the user can discover what is happening around the world, in real-time, and can be used with even the most affordable technologies.