Twitter is the hottest thing on the Internet right now, yet people either do not understand, think it is silly, or are addicted to it. In Oman, Twitter is steadily gaining popularity as more people and companies join it. For those who still do not know what this is, Twitter is a service that lets you send very short messages (140 letters or less) to people who follow you. If you are on Facebook, think of it as a website dedicated to status updates, and instead of being restricted to friends you know, it is public.
The short messages of Twitter can be used in a number of ways. The most commonly understood method is to simply use it as an answer to the question “What are you doing right now?”. Your answer could be anything from “Having my famous cereal for breakfast” to “Running late for work as usual”. These are updates that enable your friends to know what you are doing at any moment.
The second function for Twitter is to use it as a chat platform. Twitter enables its users to reply to each other’s messages instantly using a myriad of devices. If you need a quick answer to a short question, like the location of a restaurant or an advice on something to buy, you can make an update on Twitter and get a short answer from any of your followers quickly.
The third function of Twitter is to use it as a source of real-time news, whether it came from professional industries or normal people. The concept of a “Retweet”, which is the equivalent to a rebroadcast of a twitter update, makes news spread across the whole of Twitter instantly, so if you found a tweet with breaking news, you can retweet it instantly to your friends who are likely to retweet it even further down the chain.
For people like myself who are officially addicted to service (I have made more than 10,000 status updates since I registered two years ago), Twitter has become part of the lifestyle we follow. My followers know about my life more than anybody else does, and I know a lot about the lives of those who I follow in return. I have used many different methods of communication over the years, but I had never before made a connection with so many people on such a personal level like I have on Twitter. It might sound unnatural to those who don’t use the service, but I now feel that I am part of a community which I cannot abandon easily.
I have been told that I no longer have any privacy because people know every single move I make from the minute I wake up until the minute I decide to stop reading my novel in bed and go off to sleep. I have to admit that I am no longer sure about the extent to which I should disclose personal information about myself, and I do not advise anyone to tweet as much as I do, but I believe that the whole world is still trying to understand social media and it will take us a while to establish a common etiquette for using such a service. Until that happens we will have to tweet using common sense to ensure that we do not harm ourselves and those close to us by exposing too much information to the rest of the world.
This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.