Twitter’s critical mass

It was not particularly reassuring to hear that Twitter’s financial condition is tenuous, as reported in its most recent quarterly announcement.

The publicly-traded company (TWTR) is still losing money, and its revenues of $548 million for Q1 represented a decrease of 8% year-over-year, with a net loss of $62 million.

There were a few bright spots in Twitter’s report: increases in usage, data licensing and total ad engagements.

Whether Twitter will ever become profitable, however, is anyone’s guess.

But there’s no doubt that Twitter serves an extremely important function: free speech across the globe. And with that free speech, the opportunities for users to stay informed, learn new things, and hear different points of view.

Community for better or worse

Twitter suffers from some of the same problems as Facebook: fake and purposely misleading news and information. And the danger for users of shielding themselves inside a bubble of like-minded leaders and followers.

What Twitter offers, however, is a more sophisticated and educated user base who are increasingly able to recognize the wheat from the chaff.

To the extent that regular Twitter users are building their own bubbles, they are also able to mute, even block, voices that are crude, rude, and offer little or no value. Thus, the quality of one’s daily feed continues to improve over time.

For myself, I purposely follow some Tweeps with different points of view, or who provide counterpoint to others whom I follow. The key metric for choosing to follow someone is that they have something of value to offer: humor, empathy, insight, even insider-level information.

What that does, I’ve found, is stimulate my own curiosity, my imagination, and my desire to give back. It is a community for better or worse.

Wide-ranging information

Topics range far and wide on Twitter: politics, sports, human interest, world affairs, conflicts and crises, and more. I suspect one can find an interest group in practically any area one might want to join.

A Twitter user has a handle, typically in the form of @username, and handles range from proper names (@MalcolmNance) to cute (@chattyexpat) to irreverent (@MollyTov_CkTail). And everything in between.

There are no hard and fast rules about handles, but people who have built a brand, or want to build a brand, tend to use their real names or something relatable. My handle, as you might expect, is @tech_52. Feel free to follow or contact me on Twitter.

As a writer, Twitter can both be frustrating and instill discipline. A tweet is limited to 140 characters, so often one’s initial thought is not going to fit. The tweet box does allow you to keep typing beyond 140 characters, but the Tweet button is deactivated until you trim the tweet to 140 (or fewer) characters.

To mitigate the character limit, Twitter has the concept of threads, in which users can reply, unlimited, to their own tweets to complete their thoughts. But each reply is limited to 140 characters as well.

Long threads from a single user, in the opinions of many (including my own), are aggravating. One or two replies to one’s own tweet should get the job done.

Links to learn more

One method that I’ve seen users employ is to tweet a short message with a link to another Internet portal, like Medium, or with a screenshot of a Facebook post.

If you wish to follow a particular user, the latter method has the benefit of letting you know they have a Facebook profile. You can, if you’re ambitious, go on Facebook and send a friend request to that user.

Historically, Twitter has been involved in some pretty impressive world events.

The Arab Spring, in which freedom-seeking protesters shared their messages in real-time, was one such example.

Protesters on the ground in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen tweeted out messages, photos, and short videos of events on the ground.

More recently, citizens who witnessed the recent chemical attacks and other atrocities in Syria used Twitter and other social media to alert the world as to what was going on.

Grass roots journalism

As you might imagine, Twitter of late is brimming with all kinds of tweets about the adventures of Donald Trump. Trump, himself, has a Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), and uses it regularly.

There’s certainly a resurgence of regular moms, dads, sons, and daughters tweeting their outrage of the latest Trump executive order, pronouncement, or tweet.

There’s also a brand of grass roots journalism popping up on Twitter. It’s always been there, but has been especially active lately. There are tweets, some linking to blog posts, with the latest intelligence and theories.

Many threads, as you might imagine, revolve around the budding kleptocracy in the U.S., Russia’s influence, and how the norms and institutions that many of us have come to rely on are disappearing.

It’s relatively easy to get caught up in all of it. Twitter can be addictive.

For myself, I view it sort of like picking up the daily newspaper and reading the latest information. As has been clear for sometime, however, the world is digital now, and everything travels so much more quickly than that era, not that long ago, when the printing press ruled.

The bottom line is that Twitter is approaching the status of an institution, if it’s not there already. It has achieved a certain critical mass and should be with us as a vibrant source of information and free speech for a long time to come.

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