When Republican Rick Perry announced, “I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” rival Jon Huntsman didn’t hold a press conference or write an editorial. Instead, he took to Twitter, where he tweeted, “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
Huntsman isn’t the only prominent figure to tap into the power of Twitter. When Beyoncé took to the stage at MTV’s Video Music Awards and announced her pregnancy, Twitter lit up like the Fourth of July. The service reported a whopping
s per second – more than half a million per minute – setting a new record for the service. Users of the service drew on the power of Twitter to tell their friends about Beyoncé’s pregnancy and to share their own pithy reactions. One
ed, “Beyoncé is pregnant now. I think J-Z has found his 100th problem.”
With the advent of Google+ and the rise of Facebook, some question Twitter’s relevance. But Twitter offers users something other services do not: simplicity and elegance. Google+ may offer video conferencing, games and “circles” of friends. But Twitter succeeds by following the adage “less is more.” Its interface is simplicity itself. When visiting a Twitter account, visitors see a list of
s, each of which is a mere 140 characters, a search box, and little else.
This simplicity makes the service easy to use, even for novice users. It also makes the Twitter fast – blazing fast. Users can simply send a text message to Twitter anytime they want to share information. Celebrities, who don’t have time to personally author a blog, can at least manage to send a 140 character tweet. As a result, Twitter is a famously fruitful source of celebrity news. Even better, for the average fan, Twitter offers a realistic chance to interact with a celebrity. Many, such as Justin Timberlake, are known for personally responding to tweets.
Twitter’s simplicity has another advantage: its Active Programming Interface (API). Its API, which allows programmers to use the service in their own applications, is as simple and elegant as the service itself. While users tend to access Facebook and Google+ apps within Facebook or Google+ itself, Twitter has spawned a vast and fascinating number of stand-alone applications. Some allow users to visualize
s in real time. Others allow users to see the most popular links on Twitter, or to visualize the ever changing interests of the nation by reading an aggregated stream of
s. All told, there are a million registered applications, including cellphone applications, that rely on Twitter.
Ideally suited for phones, Twitter has become so prominent that Microsoft has even added Twitter into its Windows 7 Phone’s contact book. Other cellphone platforms boast Twitter applications galore.
Twitter excels as a customer service platform, where response times are generally much faster than in the public realm. Its speed and simplicity allow for easy conveyance of information. Netflix customers, for example, can easily check its feed to see how long an outage will last or to learn about new additions to its catalogue. Even the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) created a account after its nuclear power plants were damaged in the recent March 11 earthquake. The account serves to keep users informed of recent safety developments and blackouts.
As a source of news, Twitter is unparalleled. When terrorists took over a hotel in Mumbai, India, some people heard about the attacks on Twitter before the news had begun to report the attacks. Some victims even tweeted news updates from within the hotel, prompting the Indian government to request that users of the services top tweeting to prevent terrorists from gaining important information. Other important news events, such as plane crashes, were also first reported on Twitter.
All of this equates to rapidly mounting success. Twitter notched a total of 140 million tweets per day in March of 2011, a sum equivalent to the population of Russia. The contrast with Google+ is startling. While Google+ only received a lifetime total of million unique visitors from its inception until July 2011, Twitter racked up nearly million unique visits in July alone. Recent data from Quantcast shows that Twitter received a hundred million visitors from June through August 2011.
Ultimately, Twitter’s power lies not in its features, applications or numbers. In an age of increasing complexity and sophistication, Twitter’s power lies in simplicity. It lies in the ability of a small number of words—or even a single word—to change our hearts and to engage our minds. When James Buck was arrested by the Egyptian Police in 2008, he tweeted one word: “Arrested.” His friends and ultimately his university, moved by the simple appeal, fought to have him released. He was freed a day later.
Behold, the power of Twitter!