News & The Twitter Revolution | Twitter’s Window onto the Zeitgeist


BY JIM KARPEN

I kept hoping Twitter (www.twitter.com) would go away. Two years ago when we looked at it, the service seemed mostly silly: send a 140-character update saying what you’re doing at that moment.

Receiving that update, via cell phone, smartphone, or computer, would be people who were “following” you. And you could select people who you wanted to follow. Ho hum. Plus, I was reluctant to have yet another stream of data directed at me, since I’m already struggling to manage email, the Web, blogs, and more. My strategy was to ignore it.

But Twitter didn’t go away. In fact, you can hardly escape it, given that it’s in the headlines, playing a prominent role, for example, in the events in Iran during and following the recent election. In fact, the U.S. government reportedly asked Twitter to postpone a scheduled shutdown for maintenance because it was playing such a big role in events on the ground. Twitter complied.

As I write this in late June, Twitter is still raging about Iran. At the moment there are well over 100 “tweets” per minute in the thread #iranelection. (A term preceded by the # sign is a convention that has evolved to make it easy to follow posts on a particular topic, irrespective of who individually you might be following.) People are posting tweets such as, “There is a Basij station in Iran-Zamin ave. where most biker units are organized.” And “BBC playing very safe, you would think we had not had bloodshed all over the streets of Tehran today. Is Britain scared?” And “Mousavi campaign office raided, declared ‘HQ for Psychological War Against the Country’s Security.’ ” And “How To Treat a Gunshot Wound: http://bit.ly/11yDzR.” Sobering.

Some of the tweets have links to photos and videos. Just scanning one minute’s worth of tweets is astonishing. It’s as if you’re witnessing things as they happen.

That is Twitter. It’s become a sort of zeitgeist lens. People now say, if I want to know what happened yesterday, I do a Google search. If I want to know what’s happening this moment, I search Twitter.

The competition right now among Internet startups is to offer the most up-to-date window onto this zeitgeist. The generic term is real-time searching.

One new search engine, Collecta (www.collecta.com), claims to offer search results that are several seconds ahead of competitors. Collecta looks for mentions of your search term happening right now. Do a search on a term, and you get a constant stream of what’s being posted now. It’s mindboggling.

Scoopler (www.scoopler.com) is similar. Like Collecta, it offers a constantly updated stream of results.

To read the rest of this article, click Jim Karpen: you’ll reach his website, where you’ll have access to all of his posted writings.

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