Data Doctor: Q. I heard you discussing Twitter on your radio show, and I am hearing lots of people talk about it. But I still have one problem. I DON'T GET IT! Can you please explain what all the hoopla is about to a non-techy person? - Sheila
Q. I heard you discussing Twitter on your radio show, and I am hearing lots of people talk about it. But I still have one problem. I DON'T GET IT! Can you please explain what all the hoopla is about to a non-techy person? - Sheila
A. Twitter is being referred to by many as the next evolution in the communication revolution. The first step in understanding Twitter is to not compare it to any other current communication form (e-mail, text messaging, etc.). Look at it as an additional way to communicate.
Text messaging did not replace phone calls or e-mail messages; it just presented a better way to communicate under certain circumstances. That's what Twitter is providing.
Twitter is referred to as a "micro blog" because each message is limited to 140 characters (spaces included). It is a way to connect to people either as a person who sends out messages (referred to as "tweets") or a follower of those people.
When I first heard about Twitter, I had the same reaction that most people have: why the heck would I want to follow the mundane dispatches of others?
Following someone who says "I just got to Starbucks and ordered my usual" has little interest for most of us. But following someone who says "I just discovered a new way to ..." or "I just tasted a new wine that pairs well with ..." has tremendous value, depending on your interests.
One of the real powerful elements of Twitter is its "one-to-many" aspect, providing a simple way to communicate with a large number of people that share a common interest.
Sure you could seek these people out by finding their blogs online, or you could join a forum discussion. But with Twitter the information that you want will seek you out. With Twitter, the folks you want to hear from (celebrities, newsmakers, politicians or friends and family) can easily connect with you without the time drain of finding those messages in your Inbox.
If you find that you're text messaging several people essentially the same information on a regular basis, then Twitter would allow you to do it much more efficiently and allow all who are connected to join in the discussion.
Most of us are gathering more of our news via various Web sites as print editions of newspapers and traditional broadcast media often lag the news that is instantaneous on the Internet.
With Twitter, you can simply "follow" the tweets from your trusted resources - like this newspaper - so that the news you seek is actually seeking you out, almost like a customized electronic newspaper. If a headline sparks your interest, click on it!
Another example is how Twitter could help me get more information from my favorite wine bar. The landscape of wines, varietals and food parings is so enormous that unless you're in the business every day, you won't ever learn 95 percent of what is available.
David, the sommelier at my neighborhood wine bar, always has interesting stories about some of the latest wine tasting and food parings that he's experienced. But unless I happen to catch him when he has time while I am physically at the wine bar, I don't get to hear about these new discoveries.
With Twitter, those who would like to know what David learned today about anything in the wine world could simply follow his tweets about wine. The compilation of these short dispatches over time would create an amazing database of wine knowledge that I could have at my fingertips the next time I am shopping for wine anywhere in the world.
If someone you are following does not provide you with valuable information, you simply stop following them.
You can choose how you get these updates: only when you go to your Twitter page, in your e-mail inbox, as a text message on your phone or, for the tech savvy, through an RSS feed. Or the tweets of each person you follow can be sent to a different place. For instance, breaking news from CNN would appear as a text message on my phone, but David's wine tips would simply go to my e-mail.
Unlike e-mail, text messaging or blog surfing, you are not forced to consume the information in a single way; you decide how you want to get each feed.
If you want to follow along with me as I traverse the world of technology, feel free to follow me by going to www.twitter.com/TheDataDoc.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org