By JASON PONTIN The New York Times April 22, 2007
"ONLY connect," the English novelist E. M. Forster admonished mankind. I don't think, however, that he meant that we should connect exclusively, or continuously.
Habitual users of a new, free communications service called Twitter would disagree. For anyone unfamiliar with the latest trends in technology, "Twitterers" send and receive short messages, called "tweets," on Twitter's Web site, with instant messaging software, or with mobile phones. Unlike most text messages, tweets -- usually in answer to Twitter's prompt, "What are you doing?" -- are routed among networks of friends. Strangers, called "followers," can also choose to receive the tweets of people they find interesting.
Tweets are published on a "public timeline" on Twitter's home page. As I write this column, "54626" in Scottsdale, Ariz., is wondering, "Does anyone else really dig the word 'Mandible'? I kind of love it right now." "Opheliac9" in Minneapolis posts, "Guess what? I'm at the CC. Come one, come all." "Angelamaria" in the Philippines is simply "annoyed."
David Troy, a software developer in Maryland, has created a Web site called Twittervision that superimposes this public timeline on a Google map. Every few seconds, a tweet appears and vanishes somewhere on the globe. It is an absorbing spectacle: a global vision of the human race's quotidian thoughts and activities, or at least of that portion of the species who twitter.
Most twitterers communicate with small networks of people they know, but the most popular have thousands of friends and followers. One of the best-loved twitterers, Paul Terry Walhaus, a gray-haired blogger from Austin, Tex., has 9,177 friends and 1,851 followers, according to the tracking site Twitterholic.
At least one politician has tuned into the service. John Edwards, who has 2,001 followers and 2,082 friends, recently twittered that his presidential campaign would be "carbon neutral."
After Robert Scoble, who writes a popular technology blog called Scobleizer and who himself has 2,985 followers and 3,045 friends, challenged this ambitious vow on Twitter, Mr. Edwards twittered back that he would, as president, offset his campaign's carbon emissions by financing alternative energy research.
Twitter, which was created by a 10-person start-up in San Francisco called Obvious, is a heady mixture of messaging; social networking of the sort associated with Web sites like MySpace; the terse, jittery personal revelations of "microblogging" found on services like Jaiku; and something called "presence," shorthand for the idea that people should enjoy an "always on" virtual omnipresence.
It's easy to satirize Twitter's trendiness, and cranky critics have mocked the banality of most tweets and questioned whether we really need such an assault upon our powers of concentration. But right now, it's one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet.