As growing social sites like Facebook and MySpace collapse under their own weight, drowning users in never-ending streams of “Pirate Ninja Hug For Cancer!” applications, the high-tech haiku of Twitter is gaining ground. With 140 characters to answer the question “What are you doing?”, the service has soared from simple status messages to a global information network. Here we look at five uber-uses people have put twitter to.
1. Get out of jail
Journalism student James Earl Buck was arrested by Egyptian police for photographing an anti-government demonstration, because apparently the authorities don’t like that kind of thing. He only had time to send one word from his cellphone – “ARRESTED” (you can tell he’s a reporter) – but he couldn’t have got a more effective response if he’d lit up the Bat-Signal. The phone sent the statement to his twitter account, and within hours a worldwide network of friends and colleagues were on the case. Friends in America notified the American Embassy, his home University of Berkeley and the Associated Press. Those nine key presses armed James with lawyers, international diplomatic pressure and global media scrutiny – and he was free in less than a day.
2. Write a book
The rise of the cellphone novel in Japan has met with mixed feelings in the literary world. The new books, written one sentence at a time by “authors” on the train, the bus or skiving off their day jobs, have dominated the Japanese top sellers list over the last year. Some see these as preventing the death of literature, providing a route for the ADD-addled cyber-youth to get involved in books. Others see it as the actual murder of literature, where touchpads and single-digit attention spans are screwed up to a point and jammed through the heart of “real writing”. Whatever your feelings on the matter, five out of the top ten bestsellers in a year is the kind of marketing pull you can’t ignore, and twitter is ideally placed to take advantage. Many twitter stories are already a fact, including the recently completed “Good Captain” and the schizophrenically triple-authored “140 Novel“.
3. Create a digital assistant
Twitter is a true tool of the technophile, and if you’re playing the “my life in 140 characters or less” game the odds are you’re registered on more other sites than you have fingers and toes. Any techno-head has dreamed of conjuring a digital assistant to do our bidding, and while this bidding will be far less satisfying in a world without holodecks it can still be pretty handy.
Grinder m1k3y has posted a step-by-step guide to building a twitter-secretary who can track what people are saying about you and where, and inflate your ego (or trigger you rage) by forwarding these notifications to you by phone, e-mail or instant messaging. Great for those artists who embrace the internet to reach a wider audience – bad for those who aren’t very good, and whose adoring digital hordes refuse to materialise. Either way, not having to refresh twenty different sites each day should free up a lot more time to be productive (or to improve).
(Not that all such Twitter-agents have to be for work. One enterprising soul set a twitter-bot to check for Wii availability.)
4. Talk to your plants
It used to be that Triffids were the only plant that could reach out and touch somebody. Now, technology lets you talk to your houseplants long distance – and this time, it really will help them grow better. A combination of water sensor, an ethernet connection and an old mobile phone can equip your houseplants with your phone number, getting you on the horn when they need water.
They can even be programmed to “thank” you, though once you’ve started getting gratified by cyber-enabled internet-plants don’t be surprised if Doctor Who turns up to kill you. And you’ll get some funny looks in the pub – “Excuse me, my ferns are on the phone”. Some farmers have even set up remote watering systems that can be triggered long distance, so you never have to see your plants at all – though that does beg the question of why you’re even growing them.
5. Lose faith in humanity
Twittervision 3D is an incredible application, a rotating three dimensional Earth updated with live twitters, moments after they happen from around the world. There’s a flat 2D version as well, but it doesn’t truly get across the scale of the project – a simple website representing how we’ve connected vast swathes of humanity together, roping a species together with technology and innovation until one voice has the power to reach the globe. And then you see somebody use that voice to say “Just put ketchup on my ice-cream LOLLOL“. And you realize we’ve got ways to go yet.