Twitter’s Growing Role

The scandalous Iranian elections are just the latest chapter in the growing multitude of uses people are finding to connect with twitter. I’ve used twitter for a while now and have truly believe it to be a revolutionary tool for gaining insight into the world’s collective mind. I’ve had plenty of friends sign up, post something along the lines of “I don’t get it.” and then never post again. Last week Slashdot covered the topic of these “One Tweet Wonders”, who sign up for the service and then leave it behind.

But it’s those who have embraced it that truly understand its potential. Sure, there’s plenty of meaningless crap (eg. anything i post, hehe), but the true power lies with two features: search, and trending topics.

Search, as it pertains to Twitter, doesn’t give you results that you could compare with, say Google. While the twitter search page [] may vaguely resemble Google’s simple interface, a search won’t link you to sites about your topic, or the wikipedia entry. Instead, you find what human beings are thinking about that topic. Even the mundane details of everyday life, when organized through search, can give insight into what people are thinking. The Trending Topics (shown on the main search page) show you the most talked about topics across the system right then. Click on the links and you have instant response and commentary.

Twitter search gives you organic search. But it also gives you only a snapshot, and the most recent snapshot at that. While I’m sure there are ways out there to search through older moments in time, twitter’s search by default is telling you the results that are happening right now. It is instant, unfiltered, unedited content from regular people (with it’s own fair amount of spam included, of course).

This has become threatening to those who would like to control the flow of information. During terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian government plead to its people to stop posting to twitter. In the past few days, with Iran expelling many foreign press with their election coming, people have turned to Twitter to communicate and organize their outrage at the perceived corrupt election. Twitter founder Biz Stone posted today that they will reschedule planned maintenance on the site because of the importance the site has in Iran right now.

Twitter gives people a platform to speak on. While individually it might seem small and meaningless, collectively it gives people a voice.

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