Twitter: breaking down social barriers?

Twitter is often called ‘micro-blogging’, but there’s no denying its usefulness in full-length blogging, as many will know. I often link the two, using my Twitter feed to promote my blog and vice versa, but this week I linked them in a new way, asking my followers to suggest a blog topic for my post this week. Congratulations, @Groovydaz39 who asked, “How about the way Twitter breaks down social barriers? How it allows folk of all ages and backgrounds to interact?”.

This topic stood out immediately, as most critics will begin any answer to a question by investigating whether or not there is any truth in it. I can happily skip this part as I have seen the variety of ages and backgrounds that form my Twitter followers and followees in person, at the first #hullmeetup event I organised last May.

This is a factor that surprised me at #hullmeetup, if I’m honest I’ll admit I was naively expecting a handful of tech-savvy people in their late teens to early twenties. Instead what I found was a mixture of people ranging from 18-60 something, all sharing a simple common bond of their love of Twitter, and that’s the main point here: Twitter is simple. It doesn’t ask much of people beyond limiting their output to 140 characters and simply allows everyone to read what they are interested in. Who hasn’t heard someone complain about the dullness of their Facebook news feed, in which every other statement is an update of their friends’ alcohol intake of the night before or just written by someone we don’t really like?

A tweeter's followers: what do they all share?

With Twitter, people are only reading what they want to be reading; be that content offered by specific individuals or people tweeting content on specific subjects or interests. With people reading what they want to read, written by people they want to follow, interaction naturally follows. A quick @ reply to someone easily forms a conversation, shown on the larger scale by specific interest groups using hashtags to organise a structured conversation with many people at once at an organised time, for example the #writechat weekly chat invites people to converse with their questions and advice for writers world-wide. Voila: age and background are disregarded and people are tweeting away, happily breaking down the barriers that may be present in another social scenario.

Many will argue that this was able to be done long before the Fail Whale ever saw light of day, however. Chat rooms in early common-use Internet offered the same thing, as did online gaming forums and many other similar outlets. So is the real question then, why do people choose Twitter for this purpose? Here again, similarities lie with Facebook. People were looking for common ground, a one-stop shop where everyone agreed through popular use was the place to meet online. Facebook was created to meet a found social demand, and one view is that the creators of Twitter will have taken the strengths of this teamed with the large following of common interest groups to merge the two. I however, believe this to be an after-effect of Twitter. I read somewhere a while ago that nobody really knows what Twitter is yet, it still has so much growth ahead of it and we won’t know what its uses really are for some time.

All we can be sure of is this: this blog post is a result of a tweet asking for a reply, which I received from someone I’ve never met (I think, apologies if I’m wrong), and I have no understanding of their age, background or general identity. I know we follow each other on Twitter and share a common bond in being interested in the social dynamics of the site. We can continue discussing the topic, as we both can with many others too, with no need to disclose anything personal about ourselves. We simply show up, offer our thoughts, exchange them with others, then leave again. Simple. What social barriers?

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