Current estimates are that there are 200 million people with a Twitter account, a mere third of the number of registered Facebook users. I count myself a member of both communities, but it is the value of Twitter that I want to consider here.
Until recently I had used it essentially as a vehicle for providing me with breaking news on subjects that interest me whilst I am on the move. And it is simple – just identify the information you want, select the accounts you need to follow to enable you to obtain that information, and away you go. I just leave my mobile logged into Twitter and I can follow the rolling news as it happens. I can even programme it to provide instant text alerts, something, however, that I would not recommend unless you want to wake up, as in my case, to more than a hundred alerts detailing, literally, the blow by blow account of a baseball game played six thousand miles away whilst you were asleep.
A more recent and useful example was when I was able to read over by over updates on Kent’s T20 cricket match against Glamorgan whilst dining in an Indian restaurant. Unlike the chicken dansak, sag paneer and Tiger beer, it didn’t go down too well with the other diners, including my wife, but learning of Kent’s spectacular victory, grasped from the jaws of defeat, made my evening!
I am now taking a more active role in the exchange of information, and it is very satisfying when your contribution is valued sufficiently that your tweets are responded to, particularly by people in the public eye (be assured, however, that these are artists and sportsmen and women, not “celebrities”!). Moreover, the number of people following my tweets has been gradually expanding.
There is the added benefit, as many established authors increasingly claim, of using Twitter both to hone your writing skills by creating pithy, relevant tweets of no more than 140 characters and marketing yourself to prospective readers and agents by adding links to your work.
But it is a double edged sword. The pace at which news spews into my inbox, some of which compels me to respond to (I am a writer after all (keep telling yourself Tony)), takes up time that could, and should, be expended on “proper” writing i.e. drafting more serious and substantial pieces. There has been a clear ratio between the increased time I have spent on social networking sites and the lack of blog activity in recent weeks. The balance needs to be restored, and if it takes this analysis of my relationship to Twitter to help me to understand that, then I am half way to achieving that.
There is still an important place for Twitter in keeping me engaged in issues that interest me, including sport, travel, writing and current affairs, provided it is not allowed to divert me from “real” writing.
However, if, like most of my acquaintances, you haven’t tried it, give it a go and see for yourself. Be warned though – you may get addicted!