Time Magazine has just named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year. The problem is, it's a couple of years too late. Facebook started changing the world several years ago; these days, posting photos, playing games, and gossiping on Facebook is standard issue for around half a billion of the world's population. I don't disagree that Facebook has changed the way we interact with our fellow humans (and even other creatures: have you become a fan of Bernadette the Weather Duck yet?). But as a useful source of information, Facebook is limited, in its very personal nature.
What was needed was a less personal social medium, one where people could make endless connections to others around the world, and pass on, simply and slightly anonymously, tips, links, advice, etc.
That's why Twitter co-founder @Biz gets my vote for Person of the Year. As an online tool and social medium, Twitter suits my needs far better than Facebook.
Just in the last couple of weeks, Twitter has provided me with valuable information. When I was planning a drive to Kent on the day of the snowstorm, it was the Kent Police who personally advised me on Twitter that the alternate route to the closed motorway wasn't a safe alternative. I cancelled my trip, and let a fellow Eurotunnel passenger I came across via @kent_police know about the fact Eurotunnel was offering to reschedule bookings. My taking a moment to help out a stranger saved him a booking fee; he replied that he hadn't been inclined to wait on hold until he saw my tweet mentioning him. (He didn't follow me, nor I him, but we both had similar queries in to the Kent Police.)
When I had trouble with a delivery from Argos, I tweeted my displeasure, and within minutes, @Argos-online was following me and helped to resolve the situation. I've seen friends who had trouble with airlines whose issues were similarly resolved, due to their "vocal" complaints on Twitter. That's much easier, and more effective, than starting up a Facebook page or group devoted to complaining about bad service.
I love the snippets of information that come across my Twitter feed every day. Just now, I read that a University of Oxford study has determined that if everyone ate their five-a-day of fruit and veg, there'd be 33,000 fewer deaths each year. Last week a fellow traveller posted about some unknown museums in Paris I'd like to explore one day. And the archaeologist in me was thrilled to discover how a Roman statue was uncovered during a storm in Israel
My interests are eclectic, and ever changing. Right now, I'm really into dogs and dog training. I've found valuable dog training information via Twitter, watched countless dog training videos, and the veterinarians I follow are available for 140 character advice when or if I need it. I've followed political tweeters, and during the crisis in Iran I followed several of the brave Iranians who dared to tweet about what really was going on. When the crisis du jour dies down, or when my interests change, I simply unfollow those whose tweets no longer interest me.
Economics is another hobby of mine. I was thrilled to discover Nouriel Roubini on Twitter, @Nouriel. I follow econ bloggers like @ezraklein and Kevin Drum @kdrum. For people like me, who follow many different types of twitterers, you can divide the people you follow into lists according to subject matter (which you assign). That way if I want to see what political tweeters are saying, I click on the politics list. Likewise, if I'm in a vegan mood, I click on my vegan list.
I've made many friends on Twitter. Right now, my good friend @Gooddogz' dog Finn is going to the vet to have a lump examined. I've got my paws crossed for him, and for her.
Twitter, unfortunately, is not immune to death. A Dutch man who followed me (probably after I tweeted about how much I love The Netherlands), and who I followed back, was in a cancer hospice. One day I noticed his tweets had ceased, and when I checked his profile, sadly his brother had updated it with the news that he had died, a few days after his last tweet. I never met him, but I spent some time grateful for the exchanges I shared via Twitter with my Dutch friend.
But good news travels fast. When a friend gets a publishing contract, I'll read it on Twitter first. Likewise, when England lost its bid for the World Cup I read it on Twitter several minutes before my husband saw it in the next room on BBC.
The problem with Twitter, for most people, is they don't know who to follow. Starting out is hard, I admit. It's a process of serendipity, more than anything, that nets valuable tweeters. Just now, someone I follow, @ChRuins, RT'd (retweeted) a message from @EnglishHeritage. While I follow the National Trust, I'd never thought to check if English Heritage was on Twitter. Now I follow them, too, and expect to find more news I can use.
If someone follows you and has placed you on a list called "dogs", for instance, check out who else is on that list, or see who else your contact follows. You may find others with similar interests who you can follow. Many organizations now use Twitter—see if one you are interested in (Museum of London, say) is on Twitter. (They are; I just checked: @MuseumofLondon.)
For writers who spend a lot of time ferreting out research, Twitter is invaluable. Have a question about whether or not doorknobs existed during Georgian England? Crowd source it. (Yes, they did.) Want to know specific information about a country you've never been to? Follow someone from that country, and ask them directly.
There is, admittedly, a lot of junk on Twitter. While I'm a social tweeter—I'm very likely to tell you how I'm feeling, how drunk I am, or what I ate for breakfast—I'm not interested in similar information from anyone I follow, except for my friends, who I'm happy to hear are having a good time. This means I don't have a lot of followers, but then, my Twitter feed exists to inform me, not to earn me thousands of followers. (Notice my profile info still says "I'm not selling anything", which, sadly, can't be said of most people who follow me.)
I follow around 300 people (and other animals), and try to read all their tweets most every day. I get annoyed when people constantly tweet the same message, usually a link to their blog or website. I've unfollowed otherwise good tweeters for such self-promotion.
But that's a minor annoyance. There's a reason I check Twitter before I check email, and more often, too. Most days are filled with good tips I wouldn't have found anywhere else. In fact, every day I want to start out the morning by tweeting "I love you Twitter." But I refrain from doing so. (See above.)
Instead, I'll publish this post and then tweet it to my followers.