He even suggested that the seeming ubiquity of the 'micro-blogging' gadget (as he noted, several members of Congress even have accounts with Twitter) leaves Satan, lord of all that is evil, with a feeling of contentment.
I doubt he was aware of this, but the weekend before Haden's column was published I actually set up Twitter accounts for Birmingham Weekly. I did that because I and millions of others find Twitter to be engaging, useful, and far from an exercise in vapidity.
Before I go further, I must say that I greatly admire Courtney Haden. He has a keen sense of the absurd, and an abnormal ability to eviscerate those absurdities. Rarely do I find myself disagreeing with him, and even then I finish the column with a smile on my face. I could praise him for days (and depending on how this goes over, I might get to do just that). But in this case, I think he missed the mark.
Though Haden had his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek throughout most of his column, he has some actual beef with Twitter and its users. For one, he seems to believe that nearly all 'tweets' (what Twitter calls postings - they are limited to 140 characters per tweet) concern daily tedium like "when you're having coffee or mowing the lawn or exfoliating." I cannot deny that some users do just that, and you shouldn't follow them. Those folks miss the point of social networking: networking. It is not sharing for sharing's sake, but sharing something meaningful to others and connecting with people relevant to you.
A press release without the press
Birmingham twitterer Chris Collins knows connecting with the right people is key.
"I tend to follow people that live near me or share common interests," Collins says in an e-mail. Collins works for Birmingham-based advertising and public relations firm DavisDenny, where he is a new media consultant. His job requires that he be connected to media sources, new and old, and Twitter allows him to tap his sources quickly.
Twitter is useful as a personal networking tool, but businesses, organizations, and professionals like Collins are also finding it to be a valuable resource.
"Twitter lets me network with other Birmingham professionals and coordinate community events," Collins says. "I also meet prospective clients, consult and offer customer service via its private messaging function."
Collins isn't alone in offering customer service via Twitter. JetBlue, Bank of America, UPS and Comcast have all begun responding to customer service issues on Twitter in recent months.
Twitter allows organizations and companies to converse with the people who care about their products and issues. A press release can go from the company directly to the interested parties, cutting out the middleman - in this case, the traditional media - and putting editorial control in the hands of the newsmaker.
Even City Stages, Birmingham's annual music festival, has taken advantage of Twitter's targeted networking. In the 10 months since 'citystages' signed up for an account, it has acquired more than 500 followers.
"It's an awesome tool for having a conversation with the people who count," says Zackery Moore, in an instant messenger conversation. Moore is a freelance publicist and a social media intern at Cayenne Creative, and the person behind the citystages screen name. He uses the City Stages Twitter account to keep fans up to date and engaged. Last week, Moore and City Stages gave away free passes to the festival on Twitter. Last Thursday, he sent a tweet asking for band recommendations.
"We were chatting about City Stages dream bands, and we got over 70 suggestions straight from the fans," Moore says. Moore forwarded those recommendations to the festival's music booking agent.
In his column, Haden acknowledges that organizations can do some good with Twitter, and that the platform in general "has considerable potential for meaningful messaging." He even proposed that Twitter has "possible uses in emergency situations," which is really a grand idea. In a crisis, connecting with others in similar straits is vital for getting information. He mentions an organization that helps the unemployed find jobs using Twitter, but he may have had India on his mind.
When Mumbai, India, came under attack by terrorists on Nov. 26, 2008, India's citizens started tweeting. Early that morning, a user with the screen name 'gsik' tweeted, "i just heard 2 loud blasts as well (nepeansea rd)... now some sirens." As reports of gunmen wielding AK-47s trickled in, Mumbai twitterers organized. Gsik and others began tagging their Mumbai-related tweets with the hashtag '#mumbai,' and Twitter automatically aggregated the tagged tweets from across the network onto one web page. According to a Nov. 28, 2008 report by CNN, an estimated 80 tweets poured in to the #mumbai page every five seconds.
Throughout the three-day siege, Mumbai twitterers reported and, with the help of others, confirmed locations of gunshots and explosions. Still others disseminated information regarding which hospitals needed blood, helped strangers contact their loved ones in Mumbai, and posted links to news from the traditional media.
Haden takes issue with Twitter's limit of 140 characters per tweet, which is a primary difference between Twitter and the other social networking sites. Haden says that restriction means Twitter "doesn't convey much of a message, socially speaking," and that's correct in that an individual's impact is limited. But what is lost due to brevity is made up for in rapid-fire community interaction.
The story of those attacks came together on the #mumbai page not hour by hour, but second by second, and not in thousand-word news briefs but in thousands of 140-character bursts by multiple authors. Not all of the tweets were relevant, and not all of them were true. But, collectively, they confirmed truths, quashed rumors and reported what life was like in Mumbai for those three days. And they did so on a colossal scale, 140 characters at a time.
The younger generations that have grown up sending e-mails, typing text messages (which Haden abhors), and using instant messenger certainly seem to have embraced social networking more willingly than others. It may not be for everyone or every situation, but Twitter certainly has its place. And that's something we can get all a-twitter about.
Madison Underwood is a contributing writer for Birmingham Weekly. Follow Birmingham Weekly on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BhamWeekly.