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Question: What is Twitter, and why are my students so obsessed with it?

The IT Guy says:
Twitter is one of those ingenious ideas that is kind of hard to explain. That's not going to stop me from trying, of course!

Twitter is a combination of several different popular technologies, including phone text messaging and online instant messaging. You start by setting up an account at the previously-mentioned website. After you create the basic login name and password, it will offer to look though your email address book for friends who have also created Twitter accounts, but if you aren't comfortable with that (goodness knows I'm not), there is a teeny little "skip" option in the upper right-hand corner.

After that, you can start by filling in the large box that appears on the screen labeled "What are you doing?" You have 140 characters to use, so it has to be short and to the point. Then anyone can go to[your login name] and see what you have entered.

Ok, so it's short and to the point, but what is the point of doing this? The attraction is in the details. First off, once you have an account, any of your friends who also have accounts can "follow" you, which means your individual postings (which are called "tweets"—really, I'm not kidding) will show up on their page. Of course, you can choose to follow others and get their tweets on your page. And to take it to the next obsessive level, you can set up your account so that you can post your tweets from your cell phone, and receive a text message every time someone you are following posts a tweet. That's part of the powerful draw of it—you can use it with a computer or a cell phone, which means most of our students have constant access to it.

It ends up working like a slow-motion online chat, and the more people you are following or who are following you, the more entertaining it becomes. And like any powerful technology tool, it is being transformed into uses nobody would have imagined. Some professional groups are starting to use it to set up the equivalent of private news networks, sharing breaking information and rumors. One Macintosh website used it to broadcast the content from Steve Job's keynote at Macworld. It's limited only by users' imaginations.

It's also something to be very aware of in our schools. Students will of course be bugged when it's blocked on school computers, and it makes the use of the cell phone in school all that more attractive. It also allows much faster spreading of rumors. Instead of someone having to text message or call twenty friends one at a time, they can post a tweet and everyone gets it at once. If they all forward the information through their tweets, you can see how blindingly fast information (true or not) can be disseminated.

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