Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 4th May 2008

Twitter

Chris Vallance

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Meera - Well itís time to catch up with the latest developments in the world of technology. Iíve come down to London for a coffee with our resident expert Chris Vallance. So Chris, there seems to have been a lot of chat about this website twitter but what exactly is it?

Chris V - I think Twitter is the new Facebook, thatís the buzz but what is twitter? Twitter is a way of posting shirt, epigrammatic messages online: 140 characters or less. Itís called a microblogging format. It basically allows you via instant message, via the web, via your phone, to blog little short messages Ďwhat are you doing?í and share those messages with your friends, with people who follow you online. Itís a very short, simple way of posting stuff to the net. It did launch quite a while ago but since then its grown. Itís become something of a global phenomenon.

Meera - But itís not just the one site, is it? It seems to have branched out into quite a few side projects.

Chris V - One I quite like is called Twitter Local. What is does is it lets you see all the posts, all the little messages people have written in a particular area. This is fascinating because you can explore the whole globe in this way.

Kevin Tumer - I live and work in Afghanistan. Twitter lets me share information with friends and colleagues quickly. If thereís any sort of trouble I can send out a quick warning. The other morning there were about ten or twelve loud explosions that shook Kabul so I sent out a tweet asking for information from my friends. A couple of minutes later I was able to get a reply. It turns out the explosions were just the armoury practising for independence day.

James Buck - As Iím sure you know thereíve been these riots happening in Egypt and around the world due to rising food prices. We got apprehended by these police officers and taken to prison. I had set up ahead of time a sort of emergency call to my friends and a mass sms to my twitter and to my Egyptian friends. As soon as I was apprehended I sent the word arrested to that whole network and being able to raise that awareness and to let people know where I was saved me from disappearing into a black hole.

Kamela Bhat - I divide my time between the US and India. I find that twitter is a strong digital umbilical cord for me. Interestingly, news channels in India appear to have discovered Twitter. For instance, there is IBN live that has started a Twitter feed and thatís a great way to find out what is happening in India.

Chris V - As you heard on the tape there, James Buck actually used Twitter. He was in Egypt, he is arrested by the police. He Twitters the word arrested and his friends spring into action and raised the profile of his case, gained legal assistance. Itís an interesting site. I guess the analyses of trends on it are quite interesting.

Meera - This kind of thing has branched out to other social networking sites though hasnít it?

Chris V - We spoke about Facebook earlier. Thereís a new service for Facebook launched April 15th. Itís called lexicon and lets you search peopleís wall posts for popular terms and graph those. For example Iíve put in BBC and Wikipedia to see what was more often cited on peopleís Facebook profiles. It turns out Wikipedia just about edged us.

Meera - That surprises me, actually.

Chris V - Well, I think obviously Wikipedia linked back to a lot of other news sources so you could argue the toss that way. Getting back to Twitter, weíre starting to see a kind of explosion in these services built on the data that Twitter generates. Thereís another one called Twitter URLE. What it does is the most popular links on Twitter. So you can see what people are linking to in their posts most frequently. One of the most popular was Twitter twerp finder. As Twitter grows more and more spammers, people with a commercial interest, are jumping in as well. That was a service that tries to help you identify who the spammers are and knock them out of your list of friends and followers.

Meera - Thatís quite useful.

Chris V - Yes it is although itís quite a crude way of calculating who is a twerp in their language. It will be interesting to see how it works in the longer term.

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