Twitter: No Internet Required

twitter-bird1A lot of things make Twitter special. The 140-character restriction makes the writing more potent, because people are forced to get to the point instead of rambling on. Anyone can search for things that are happening “right now,” as opposed to waiting hours (if not days) for Google to update its links. And unlike Facebook, discussions are open to the public, which encourages greater participation.

But one feature has been grossly overlooked in terms of what helps Twitter stand out: the ability to publish headlines to the Internet using only text-enabled cell phones. How is that special, you ask?

Imagine how confined Twitter would be if it were web-only, requiring both a browser and Internet access, like most social media platforms (i.e. blogs, YouTube, and to a lesser extent, Facebook). It would still work. You’d still get an ego boost with each new follower. But it wouldn’t be as popular or used as often as it is today.

The makers of Twitter are seemingly aware of this. “Sending updates to Twitter while you’re away from your computer makes things much more interesting,” reads documentation on the devices section of Twitter profiles. “It’s all done through text messages (aka ‘SMS’), which you probably use all the time anyway, so there’s not much to learn.”

A couple of things to note from that. First, SMS is “more interesting” when coupled with Twitter because the publication of social media doesn’t have to wait for a browser, access to the Internet, or portable technology like an iPhone or BlackBerry. With Twitter, there’s no more “I’m blogging this when I get back to my desk.” You can report from the field as a story happens — so long as you have cell reception, which is better than the 76.2 percent of the world without Internet access.

Secondly, since you likely use your phone “all the time anyway,” the frequency in which you contribute to Twitter is much higher than other forms of social media, which again, typically require more advanced technology enabled with an Internet connection. I think it’s safe to say most people are a lot closer to their phone than their Internet connection. And without a smartphone and data plan, the two are mutually exclusive.

As an added bonus, Twitter “by txt” lessens the effort needed to participate in social media, since you’re already using your phone more. If there’s one reason that independent bloggers have begun abandoning their blogs, it’s because blogs require a lot of work. Since a Twitter account is much easier to maintain and update than a blog, its drop-out rate might be lower than other platforms in years to come.

Granted, other web services leverage text messaging to their advantage. I can find nearby movie times or restaurants by texting Google. And Yahoo can text me news feeds and sports scores. But Twitter is the only SMS service to enable social media for the general public, not just friends in your network (à la Facebook). No Internet required.

That’s how ordinary citizens with rudimentary technology can impact real-world events like Iranian elections. That’s how Twitter can change the way we live.

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