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A million conversations are going on right now on Twitter--what do they have to say to you

By Joab Jackson | Posted 8/19/2009

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So, how do we make sense of these millions of bits of posts that get filed every day, both good and bad? That's the best part, actually.

Those who say they see no value in Twitter probably aren't using it correctly, notes Michael Saffran, an adjunct professor of Communications at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "The most important point to Twitter is who you're following," he says. "Twitter can aggregate all your interests in a single place."

In a way, Twitter is deceptive. By putting the empty box where you fill out what you want to fill out at the top of the page, it surreptitiously promotes the value of writing something. But the true value of your micro-messaging is not only what you say, but how you blend together other voices into a coherent whole.

With Twitter, you are encouraged to "follow" others. When you follow someone, be they friends, experts in some subject, or random commentators, this means that their missives will appear on your page. When you visit your Twitter page, their tweets are compiled, on the fly, in reverse-chronological order; this is also true with Facebook. In effect, a successful Twitter or Facebook landing page becomes a personal news-feed, one that always updates with potentially interesting items, Saffran says.

"I tend to view Twitter mostly as a sort of crazy, mass stream-of-consciousness instant message session with people who are a part of my community," says Lauraville resident Tracey Gaughran-Perez, a full-time blogger who writes or manages sites such as the pop culture-focused MamaPop and product-fetishistic We Covet. She has over 3,000 followers on Twitter, and has tweeted over 9,000 times. "There are great heaps of people on my Twitter feed that I feel genuinely connected to in important and meaningful ways," she says.

And once up and running, a personal feed can be powerful. Not only is the information customized to the user to a degree that even the best news outlet or blog can't hope to match, but also because it tends to reflect the scattered and loosely linear nature of stream-of-consciousness human thought.

Gaughran-Perez says she keeps TweetDeck up and running on her computer pretty much throughout the entire day. On a single screen, she keeps five different ever-updating feeds--including one for private messages, one a compendium of what her friends have recently tweeted, one for following individuals who discuss topics that would be of interest to her pop-culture blog, and one for others who have reposted her own Tweets. At 6:22 p.m. one recent evening, for instance, she learned that DVD four of season one Dollhouse will blow her mind, that people all over Twitter are working up fictional failed Broadway show titles (Swan! A Rock Opera based on the Works of Proust), that a friend of hers is sitting in front of someone who is either "having an angry speakerphone conversation or he's rapping." Within a few minutes, all these bits of information would be washed away with newer updates.

"Twitter is about following these tiny snapshots of people's day-to-day lives," Gaughran-Perez says. "And that's boring and tiresome only if you pick the wrong people to follow."

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