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How Twitter has changed my life

Sometimes Twitter comes up in conversation with my friends and family that don’t work in technology. I never actually bring it up because I know that it’ll require an hour plus of explanation or discussion, at the end of which they’ll think I’m crazy, nerdy or just plain bored. But every now and then someone will ask me what I think is the biggest thing happening on the web, and I inevitably will say Twitter and launch into that dreaded debate.

My best friend (a psychologist and epidemiologist), even seeing the impact Twitter has had on my life, still asserts that it is a communication tool for the tech community and only the tech community. While of course technically-inclined people are always more likely to be early adopters of new products and systems, I wholeheartedly do not believe that Twitter only has value for the tech set.

When asked to explain exactly what Twitter is and what it does, I usually say something along the lines of, “Twitter is a service through which people send messages to one another in real time, exchanging ideas/advice/stories/links, and ultimately allowing people to connect with strangers from all over the world in a meaningful way. Messages are no more than 140 characters and can be read and sent using the web, text messages, IM and a variety of desktop apps.” And that’s pretty much where I lose them.

I pride myself on being a clear communicator, particularly because it’s essential for the job that I do. But it really gets frustrating when I feel so passionately about something and I can’t use my words to incite passion in the person I’m talking to. Clearly, I need to change my approach.

I recently came across Michael Galpert‘s blog post entitled “What is Twitter?” and his accompanying website WTFisTwitter where he posts videos of some really well-known Internet types answering the $64,000 question.

After watching these bright minds try their best at an explanation, I started to realize that we’re stuck in a classic case of “show, don’t tell” here. Illustration always trumps explanation. Hey, that’s exactly why I fill so many of my blog posts with big ol’ screenshots. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Well, okay, I can’t literally use pictures to explain how Twitter has changed my life, but I can give you some pretty impressive examples. The next time someone asks me WTF Twitter is, I’ll be sure to use one or more of these nuggets:

  • I was visiting my parents in Miami for 4th of July weekend. I knew I’d have some time to kill on Saturday night. I don’t have many professional contacts in Miami, so I sent out a tweet to see if anyone was around to meet up. My Twitter friend Stephen Melfi pointed me to a Twitter search engine that finds all matches and lists them in order of popularity (highest # of followers at the top). At the top of the list was Alex de Carvalho, a social media professor at University of Miami and the leader of BarCampMiami. I asked him if he was free for a tweetup, and within the hour he had set up a Facebook page and an Upcoming.org page for the event. More than 20 people showed up and I got to meet some really amazing people who could give me entrée into the South Florida business community.
  • I needed to rent a car for the weekend I spent in San Francisco, but I couldn’t decide which company to go with. I asked my Twitter friends and within 20 minutes I had 15 responses, including a discount code from Matt Knell. Then when I asked about the best in-car device for the iPod, about 10 people responded and a couple mentioned that I should call ahead to the car rental company to see if I could get a car with an auxillary input and just plug the iPod into the system directly. I didn’t even know that existed, and because of their advice Joanna and I were able to listen to our iPods worry free for our entire roadtrip.
  • I was writing a ridiculously long and thought-provoking blog post about a session I’d just attended at IA Summit called “Becoming a Leader: From IA to Business and Beyond” when I mysteriously lost the entire post before it was published. I freaked out and pleaded for help to my Twitter friends. Of all people, Annie Heckenberger (who had been my parents intern and employee more than 10 years ago) came to my rescue with the contact info for two incredible people in the burgeoning Philly tech scene — Alex Hillman and Johnny Bilotta. While Alex and I have not yet met in person (ridiculous!), Johnny has become a dear friend who I hold very close to my heart.
  • I tweeted my conference schedule for 2008 and noted that I was dying to go to the Web App Summit, but didn’t have room left in my annual budget. A couple minutes later I had a message from Jared Spool, the conference organizer and a pioneer in my field, offering to make me a volunteer and comp the registration cost. He didn’t have to do that. In the end, I wasn’t able to make the time in my schedule to attend, but he’s doing it again for UI13, and you better believe I’m gonna tweet the hell out of it.
  • Similarly, I was struggling to write a client proposal and sent a tweet that read: “Any freelancers wanna tell me how much they charge per hour?” I got a whole slew of responses, including a direct message from Jared telling me how he prices projects. He then gave me his AIM name and offered to answer any more questions should they arise. We ended up spending more than an hour discussing consulting, careers and running your own business. The advice was invaluable and I will carry it with me for a long time.
  • And of course there’s the NYC tweetups. I have met an incredible group of people here in the city that I would likely never have met otherwise. I’ve been attending NYC UPA meetings and NY Tech Meetups and other local events for a long time, but had never once introduced myself to someone. I guess you could say I’m shy (hard to believe, right?). But I am. Once I have the intro, I’m completely open and comfortable, but making that initial contact has always been extremely difficult for me. Twitter has given me a venue through which to make that initial contact. Because of my activeness in this online community, people now come up to me at events and introduce themselves. I’ve likely had several exchanges with these people prior to meeting so there’s a natural jumping off point at which to start a conversation.

    I can’t begin to explain how wonderful it is to be surrounded by this open, welcoming, kind and intelligent network. As a native New Yorker, most of the people I know here are friends from middle school and high school, lots of college friends have moved here after graduation, too. And then my family of course. Up until a couple months ago I was hanging out with the same people in the same places, and yes, I love them all dearly, but let’s face it, I was feeling antsy. I was using dating sites to meet new people, and 9 times out of 10 that doesn’t get you anywhere.

    So now here I am, with plans pretty much every night of the week, with a whole new group of folks with shared interests but different perspectives and backgrounds and experiences. What more could you ask for?

There have been so many unbelievable experiences that I can’t even begin to recollect them all. Suffice it to say, I have interacted with so many insightful and committed people through this service that it has completely changed the course of my career. What else can you say that about?

Now tell me: how has Twitter changed your life?

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  • http://www.sheilabocchine.com Sheila Bocchine

    WOW! That was a fantastic blog! It’s so true! Between twitter, flickr and myspace I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of communication! It’s pretty amazing!

    I found this blog post via your tweet!

  • Ryan Evans

    I wonder how much the success of your examples depends on the culture of twitter and the type of people using the tool. I could post similar questions/requests on Facebook, but probably wouldn’t get such thoughtful responses. Maybe on LinkedIn…

    On the other hand, you could argue that each of us has the opportunity to construct our own culture and group of contacts with any of these platforms.

    - rhino88888888

  • Liz

    Twitter introduced me to a lot of wonderful, new people who live relatively close to me…and who love to sing!

    Now I just have to get my off-line friends to create accounts but, like you say, it is hard to explain Twitter to people and why it is so great. I’m not as sure as you are whether it will take off outside of the Tech/Marketing/Business community because everyone I know says they are too busy (work + family) to keep up the pace of one social network, much less multiple socials networks unless it is part of their job.

    It would be great if they did sign up to Twitter because I’m finding friends are emailing less and less because of work demands. They’ve grown disenchanted with email, IM and are even using their cellphones less for casual calls.

    It might be a generational thing though. Most of my friends have kids and their activities fill almost all of their spare time.

  • http://marthmihaly.wordpress.com Martha

    Well, I know absolutely not one friend one who twitters. It’s likely a function of some things already mentioned..demographic, location, time constraints and of course, who the heck would I twitter with!

    I agree it is a great tool, and can absolutely see the potential for mass use. I just have to wait for some critical mass adoption.

    Super post. Thanks.

  • http://alexdc.org Alex de Carvalho

    It would be impossible to count the many ways Twitter has impacted my life! It was a pleasure meeting you and I hope we’ll see you more often in Miami ;) Im glad you enjoyed the tweetup. It was nice to have it in the middle of the long weekend, and Monty’s is a fun and relaxed place. See you soon again!

  • http://briandigital.com Brian Christiansen

    Hey Whitney, so you are coming to UI13? As a volunteer? I look forward to meeting you there :-)

    Till then, see you on the interwebs…
    Brian @ UIE

  • http://www.ginside.com Jonathan Dingman

    Twitter hasn’t just changed my life, it revolutionized my life.

    Twitter has become a quint essential to my life because it keeps me connected with people I need to stay connected to.

    When I describe Twitter, I call it a communication tool or platform. It really is a micro-blogging platform that has hyper-interaction built into it.

    I love Twitter.

  • http://blog.fluentsimplicity.com Jonathan Kash

    Great post, Whitney. Twitter is indeed revolutionary!

    How has it changed my life? Opportunities to connect with new people, old friends and a better ability to keep a pulse on “stuff” to name a few.

    Oh, I also found my new job through a tweet from @jowyang. :-)

  • http://www.waltribeiro.net Walt Ribeiro

    Remember when you tweeted help about strumming guitar? Tell me you got those videos Whitney. tell me Twitter didn’t fail to send ‘em to you… ^_^

    Twitter is great. i’m a big fan – awesome Blog Post!

  • http://twitter.com/cheeky_geeky Mark Drapeau

    Twitter has completely changed my job description. I have gone from being “narrowly” focused on biology to moving into an entirely new research area, how Social Software can help Security (S3).

    Twitter has also changed how I communicate with people and learn daily. I learned about Tim Russert passing away and many other things through Twitter. I’ve met lots of people. I’ve killed a lot of time.

    Twitter is the kind of technology that needs to be shown and not told. I have gotten the stubbon hooked, and the really stubbon to understand through Blackberry demos and the like. You cannot put it into words well enough.

  • http://twitter.com/moon moon

    Twitter is many things to many people.

    Blogging changed my life, but I blog within a niche and Twitter has a more diverse audience.

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  • sh3n3rd

    Twitter has been a great experience for me so far..I think it's been a week now!! I haven't gotten a lot of direct replies to things but I'm just not as cool as you. LOL Seriously though it's like having a huge random conversation with 50 people, or maybe like thinking out loud? Like you, I tend to be very shy about introducing myself in public and maybe my digital life is bigger than my real one….ha ha But I have been reading and following so many fascinating and brilliant people. It's giving me hope that I can actually take some of the ideas that I have and bring them to fruition…especially as it pertains to escaping my corporate enslavement and making a career that is more dynamic and centers around what I have true passion for. Like I said, I wanna be Whitney when I grow up!!!

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  • http://www.goclicktravel.co.uk/ coach hire

    Nice info about Twitter, I haven't a Twitter account yet but I found it interesting because of your post. so I'll make my account.

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