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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Twitter

"What are you doing?" is arguably the most inane question ever asked by one person of another, so one would think a site dedicated to that question would be among the most inane on the internet.

That shows how little we understand both the internet and life.Twitter, as the site is known, is one of those hot internet sites we read about that give us cause to wonder about both.Twitter's market share of visits to social networking sites is up 500 percent for the week ended July 5 compared to the same week the year before, according to Hitwise. And Twitter's bigger still in the UK, ranking in Hitwise's top 50 social network sites. Twitter is based on the Zen-like notion that real life is what happens between blogs and emails, and those in-between moments are taken up by the most routine things: Brushing one's teeth, watching TV, listening to a dull speech, emptying the fridge.

Twitter uttered its first tweet two years ago this month. In effect it is a form of microblogging, where folks blog at 140 characters or less per entry. Twitterers can post tweets by logging onto the site, using software on their browser, by mobile phone or instant messaging. They can then send their tweets to all or to a select list of friends.

Just why people like Twitter is a bit of a mystery to some. Robin Goad, research director at Hitwise UK, believes that it is partly the lure of seeing how many friends and followers a person can have.

But for some it may also be to help build what Goad calls the Brand of Me, as a way of promoting one's person and increasingly one's business in life, whatever that might be. "They are trying to build up their personal brand online. So that when they try to get jobs they have their own brand online," says Goad.That's something that's common among bloggers, particular in the technology and media sectors, a group of people that Twitter is especially popular with in the UK.

There are likely to be a couple of factors explaining why it has captured a higher percentage of the population in Britain than the U.S. For one thing, Britons visit more blogs generally, perhaps because they surf both American and British blogs.Another possible reason is that Twitter is arguably more similar to Facebook, the biggest social network in Britain, than MySpace, which dominates in the U.S.

Signs that Twitter is approaching mainstream in Britain include the changing demographics of those visiting. In the past four weeks an equal number of males and females visited the site. What’s more, the age demographic is spreading beyond 25- to 34-year-olds, with some 37 percent of visitors now older than 45.

While more growth is expected for Twitter, Hitwise’s Goad wonders how much bigger it will get. "I don’t think it will become really mass market. It doesn’t strike me as likely to be as big as Facebook. I don’t think it will ever be the primary or only destination people go to for social networking," say Goad.

Instead, he believes, it is likely to ultimately be used to link friends to other content. So, for instance, if someone puts up a blog post, they might notify their friends by Twitter.

By Heidi Dawley
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