I’ve been using Twitter now for a few months, and I still have little idea of it’s purpose—or if it even has one. At it’s base, Twitter is a simple way to share and receive bits of information, the modern currency. It’s like a data marketplace—a microcosm of the internet itself, and more manageable than the world wide web. But I like that it has undefined boundaries, and that users have come up with new uses for it.

I don’t go out of my way to read about Twitter’s development on technology blogs or whatever. I have my interests (technology and internet culture among them), and I read about them semi-regularly; but I don’t have the time or the interest to consume or sort through all of the blather, opinion, and predictions about something like Twitter, which I would prefer to explore myself.

That said, here are a few of the ways in which Twitter has changed my internet and information consumption behaviour.

1. Interest-targeted information
I never had a selection of specific blogs that I would visit regularly to find news on a certain topic. I retrieved stuff from the internet mostly via news sites (e.g., TheStar.com), search engines, and aggregators (e.g., Digg and Reddit), each of which serves a particular purpose for finding information. Google news was my main news source for a brief while a couple of years ago. I also began using Google Reader to follow with pitiful—make that pathetic—regularity my friends’ blogs.

These all might have their own purposes, but I found them inefficient because they forced me to visit a website and scan through bits of info for what I wanted to read. I had heard of RSS feeds, which could send interesting links directly to a central location, such as your e-mail or a web application like Google Reader, but I was too lazy to bother figuring it out, and besides, Facebook had captured most of my internet attention; and with Facebook, I could share information as well as receive it.

This was all before Twitter. I looked at Twitter last year some time and thought, like just about everyone else on the planet (that’s facetious western arrogance, by the way): “What is this nonsense? Who cares about what everybody/nobody has to say about their nonsense lives?” I hardly realized that millions were already paying attention to others’ nonsense on Facebook all day long. But Twitter just seemed too simple and pointless: why would anyone actually want to know about what others were doing or, you know, thought about stuff?

Well, I was wrong. I mean, I still don’t care about what most people are doing or what they think about stuff—my use of Twitter has actually made this abundantly clear. I also note that recently (even before Twitter) I’ve been using Facebook far less than in the past. The thing is, now I can “follow” “twitterers” who “tweet” information in which I am interested, as well as my friends—those who are currently taking advantage of the service—and all of that information goes to one central place, where I can scan it with far greater ease than before.

For example, I used to visit Digg, which aggregates user-submitted stories from the web, placing the top stories (by users’ votes) on the “front page”. This is incredibly useful, but the content is still all over the place. Current events and world politics are combined in an unholy mixture with pictures of cute animals, celebrity “news” and UFO and crop circle sightings, and eventually, I found myself disillusioned with sifting through all of the stuff I wasn’t interested in. As for friends’ blogs, as I mentioned, I simply didn’t look at them very often, probably because I was spending my online time scanning Digg.

Twitter allows me to narrow the scope of my information retrieval. I follow certain news sources and blogs that mainly focus on local (i.e., Toronto) news, for example:

Torontoist for general Toronto news, mostly written by local independent journalists
BlogTO for more general news
NOW Magazine for the “alternative” news
Urban Toronto) for a great look at Toronto’s history and future

Some of my other interests are satisfied via:

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project
Tech news, commonly involving Google at myunblinkingeye
News about all the good food we produce in Ontario from Foodland Ontario

I follow friends (including the writers of BlogCampaigning):

Justin Broadbent, a terrific artist, illustrator, photographer, and videographer
Angie Johnson, fashion designer and Montréal boutique owner extraordinaire
Tyson Bodnarchuk, another terrific artist and Montréal boutique owner extraordinaire

And I even follow the odd celebrity:
Neil Gaiman, writer of fantasy and science fiction
Rainn Wilson (kind of), via his “big questions” blog, Soul Pancake

I could go on, but I fear that I’m already pushing the boundaries of attention, and will raise the ire of my fellow blogcampaigners with my first post.

So, to wrap up: maybe you’re not an information junkie to the extent that I am, but if you use the internet to seek useful or interesting information for personal or professional use, and you find you’re not satisfied with your current methods, I recommend you give Twitter a try. It’s not difficult to understand and use, and it should be even easier for people who are already somewhat social-media savvy.

Let me know if you’ve got questions. I probably won’t be able to answer them, but I’d like to hear them!

Upcoming:
Twitter as human-powered search engine—the new (better) Google!?
Twitter as hyper-modern communication tool—not just for nerds!

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