Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twitter, Twitter: A Case for Social Media

I am sure you are going to start thinking that this blog is less about education issues and more about social media. Well, that isn't really true but it is clear that social media has great power, which is waiting to be unleashed at various places.

I am not writing this post in the form of a formal seminar paper and I am going to maintain my chatty tone throughout. However, the title "Twitter, Twitter: A Case for Social Media" is certainly a catchy seminar paper title.

I would like to approach this issue from various perspectives in my posts and in this post, I am going to focus on Twitter. However, let us begin with Mr. K Srinivasan of PR Point, a leading Public Relations practitioner in India. Mr. Srinivasan sincerely believes that social media should be taught to students in Indian colleges. I would be tempted to agree with him. Recently, I asked my media students to write about the way in which Barack Obama used social networking to his benefit. There was one student in my class, who said, "Sir, I don't know what this is all about." There were twelve students present there and we are referring to a very reputed institute in the country. There were two other students that day who didn't articulate it the way, this person did but they too seemed quite lost. Then, another day, I was speaking to another set of students, again students who are studying at a very reputed institute. I was teaching them public relations and we were discussing how various social networking sites could be used to create good PR. I spoke about Twitter and my students-- young 20-somethings, who stay in New Delhi, study media and are net-savvy--had heard of Twitter but they didn't know what it was all about.

This does show that there is a great need to educate young people about the uses of social media. Going back to Mr. Srinivasan, he is running an online poll on the Impact of Social Media on Indian Voters. Only Indian voters are eligible to participate. However, even if you are not an Indian voter, you can still access the website.

Sometime, early this week, I wrote a status update about myself on Facebook and I said I would like to explore Twitter for education and one of my Facebook contacts asked me how I would go about it. I thought that query gave me more food for thought. When I explained about Twitter to my students. I told them that it was a microblogging service where you could post updates about what you were doing in 140 characters. I also told them that you could follow other peoples' updates and that you could update others. The first question that five students asked in unison was: What's the use of following other peoples' updates? Why should anyone follow you? Those were pertinent questions. I explained the advantages to them. Then it made some sense to them.

Speaking about this Facebook friend, who asked me how I could use Twitter for education. I would like to be brief here and I would follow up with future posts which would demonstrate how Twitter could be used for education. Let us take an example. Let us speak about language teaching. However, one could form a limited Twitter group with students / speakers who are second language learners of English. The teacher could use Twitter for writing small phrases and could use the service for explaining the sentence structure used in the English language. The teacher could post an incorrect sentence and ask the students to correct it in real time. The teacher could use a conversational method to teach language.

Now, let us change track a bit. From the domain of education, media, and public relations, where Twitter can be quite powerful, let us speak about what Twitter is doing to the internet these days. John Battelle believes that Twitter is the You Tube of real time search. I thought that was a very powerful idea. Battelle wrote a post yesterday, February 25th. He calls it Twitter=You Tube. He says that You Tube generates more searches than Yahoo and he says that Twitter is community driven and Battelle states that Google wasn't that strong in that part of the media business. I liked the piece and I also liked the way he titled it.

Mercury News also has a very interesting article on the issue. Chris O'Brien wrote How Twitter could be a threat to Google. There is a great online buzz about Twitter and how it can be a transformational idea. We are already in the transformational age now with the election of Barack Obama and everything seems possible these days. Twitter hasn't made a penny yet and it suffered from a major PR disaster recently when some famous accounts were compromised. Figures tell me that Twitter has six million users and that a search function, is growing rapidly.

The co-founders of Twitter, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, have already sold a business to Google: Can you guess which one? They sold: Blogger. The same blogger that I am using right now to write this post. Twitter is based in San Francisco and is known as a microblogging service. O'Brien feels that the way Twitter has developed shows that it can do to Google, exactly what Microsoft did to IBM years ago. He feels that this is the way Goliaths are beaten. Twitter has already refused a $500 million offer from Facebook.

I am sure there will be more action in the near future. I wanted this post to focus on Twitter and to show how social media has developed. I would follow up with related posts soon.

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