What Are You Doing?

Once upon a time on the web, there were online journalers. These thoughful diarists with a knack for code publicly reflected on their lives and the matters of the day, many imagining themselves as a modern-day Samuel Pepys.

Then came weblogs, and the guttural nounverb “blog,” and suddenly writing online was so easy, anyone could do it. And everyone did. Carefully crafted entries became spontaneous posts, and suddenly the web became the repository for deep epiphanies and random babbling alike.

“Oh great,” said the journalers. “Soon people are going to be posting every little thing they do on the web.”

Enter Twitter. It’s a web service so 2.0, I’m shocked — shocked! — they didn’t call it “Twittr.”

While most blogging services are beefing up their features to allow integrated photos, audio, and video, Twittr is going in the opposite direction. It’s a stripped down blogging service, where most posts are spontaneous and are barely a sentence long. There are no deep treatises on the human condition, or music reviews, or pointless memes. The quintessential Twitter post is the casual answer to the simple question: “What are you doing?”

Are you standing in line at the grocery store? Waiting for a movie to start? Debugging some .NET code? Tell Twitter, tell your friends, and tell the world.

Key to Twitter’s spontaneous feel is its integration with SMS. Sure, other blogging tools allow posting from mobile devices. Often these require smartphones with web browsers or Java machines. But the basic limitations of SMS create a different vibe, and voice. You have to keep it simple (plain-text only), concise (SMS messages are limited to 255 characters) and maybe a little goofy.

Similarly, Twitter allows posting by IM. Just send a message to the Twitter contact, just as you would a friend — perhaps to say, “This lecture is putting me to sleep.” If you insist, you can also post updates at the website.

It’s blogging, but less. Microblogging?

The mandatory profile and contact features allow you to track the Twitter posts of all your friends or favorite Web 2.0 celebrities, either via an aggregated web display and feed, or via SMS (of course). Want to know every little thing your boyfriend does when he does it? Twitter can tell you (if he tells Twitter, that is). And you can put a little Flash widget on your site so non-Twitter visitors can still see at a glance what you’ve been up to.

And if you think you’re likely to quickly forget about Twitter as you continue to drown in a sea of “social web” goodness, you can set Twitter to “nudge” you if you haven’t posted in the last 24 hours. Though this may result in a whole page of entries that simply read, “Responding to Twitter.”

They say you can never know too much about a person. Sites like Twitter will certainly put that cliché to the test.

You can find me on Twitter right here. I’m not sure if you should hope that I do, or that I don’t, make Twitter updates a habit.

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