Twitter is a free service that allows people to post short text-message length messages from their phone or computer onto their own public message board.
The messages can be accessed by anyone, but generally are picked up by that person’s ‘followers’.
Thanks to the latest generation of smartphones, the service can be used anywhere. But there are a few more factors that make it a fascinating and addictive way to waste time.
Firstly, the notion of ‘trending’. Trends are a list of words or phrases that are that moment’s hot topics. As I write this the UK’s trends include ‘Eiffel Tower’ (which has just been struck by a spectacular lightning bolt), ‘Germany 5-1’ (the match was ten years ago to the day), and ‘Dai Greene’ (who clinched gold in the world championships 400m hurdles).
Sometimes the trends refer to something serious, such as natural disasters or other big stories, or it could be something as inane as ‘ReplaceMovieNamesWithBacon’.
Subjects can be searched for so users can see what is being said about any chosen topic.
So while you’re watching TV, for example, you can use your phone to search for the programme on Twitter and see what others make of what’s going on and join in the discussion.
So if you want to converse about which Egghead you think is best, what midfield set-up Fabio Capello should have gone with on Tuesday night, or debate Jon Snow’s questionable taste in ties during Channel 4 News, you can.
But there is also a serious side to what can happen when this much information can get flung about. Some Middle East governments blocked internet access for fear of protesters mobilising at a moment’s notice on Twitter.
Recent uprisings in Egypt, Iran, Moldova and Tunisia were all said to have been arranged in part using Twitter.
Last month, while several towns and cities across the UK were being targeted by looters, a quick search of Twitter on my phone revealed talk of riots kicking off at Asda and Junction 1 in Rugby. Fortunately these rumours quickly turned out to be untrue, but elsewhere many rioters did turn to Twitter to mass-mobilise in places where the police presence was thin. The events led to the UK Government considering blocking social networking sites during times of unrest.
But despite upsetting some people, the service seems unlikely to fall in popularity any time soon.
The Advertiser’s Twitter feed can be found by searching twitter.com for @RugbyAdv.
Matthew Deaves, Rugby Borough Council communications manager also who presides over the town hall’s tweets, said: “There have been some real benefits to Twitter. The service is all about having a conversation, so when we get queries it allows us to respond much faster because sometimes going down formal routes isn’t necessary.
“There have also been other times when it’s proved extremely useful. On polling day for example we had a problem with one polling station. It could have gone all all day but because of Twitter we were able to hear about it and sort it out before 9am.
“Since the council began using Twitter we’ve monitored its progress and
officers and councillors are delighted with it. One idea we’re hoping to try out in the future is a live discussion with council leader Craig Humphrey.”
Paul Coxon uses Twitter to share his views with friends and family and swap news. He was sceptical at first, but was soon won over by the service.
He said: “I resisted Twitter for a while because I thought it was a bit elitist and something that was exclusively for people with smart phones.
“I started seeing the business benefits and was soon hooked.
“I was using it a lot for social reasons by February 2010.
“For the me big appeal is the sheer volume of information that can be accessed – you can talk about anything with anyone at any time.
“That’s what’s so addictive and the thing that got be hooked and kept me coming back. It’s expanded my knowledge about many things.”
Rick Cooper, of Cheese on the Green, the specialist cheese shop in Bilton village (@RugbyCheese), pictured with Richard Cooper (left) said
Twitter was responsible for helping draw
Rugby’s small but passionate cheese loving community through the doors.
He said: “It’s surprised us how many cheese fanatics there are out there.
“On our Twitter feed we have a cheese of the day – some people drop by the shop, buy some and take a picture
to post on their Twitter feed to proudly show off what they’ve bought.
“Word quickly gets around on Twitter so it’s a free, easy way of communicating with customers and the community we serve. Like most Twitter feeds it’s kept informal and encourages people to interact.”
Peter Makosch, station announcer at Rugby Station presides over the @VTrugby account, which keeps passengers up to date with train times. He said: “We set up the account a few months ago and because it’s kept fairly informal it’s much less corporate and encourages passengers to interact.
“People get in touch with general queries or just to converse about something that’s been mentioned in the Tweets, anything from trains to a chocolate cake that arrived on my desk a few days back.
“Because it’s just Rugby Station that’s covered, it makes it much easier for passengers from Rugby who would otherwise have to go through other Virgin Trains channels and wade through much more information.”