Twitter culture gives participants a sense of self-worth

Josh Carrico was ahead of the curve by about two years.

Josh Carrico was ahead of the curve by about two years.

When he signed up for Twitter.com on Aug. 9, 2006, he couldn’t exactly use the site to keep up with his friends. They weren’t on it.

Instead, Carrico followed messages from Adobe and Fast Company.

“I started finding a lot of people who were prominent figures in the tech community and saying, ’Wow, I have this one-to-one relationship with them that I never would’ve had before’,” said Carrico, 32.

He is what’s called an early adopter. As a web developer, he’s forever trying to sell his friends on the latest Internet sites and gadgets. He told them they could use Twitter to send instant messages without being chained to a computer. He told them they could vent to the masses. He told them they could keep tabs on their favorite celebrities and athletes.

“Then again, I couldn’t get anyone to use it,” Carrico said.

That was then.

So, what are you doing?

Twitter, in case you haven’t heard, is a microblogging site that asks users to answer the question “What are you doing?” Users post updates, or “tweets,” of 140 characters or fewer, which can be seen by all the “followers” who sign up to view the user’s feed.

They can also send public or private messages to individual Twitter users, or “tweeters.”

To reply to someone’s message, followers use @username.

Even with its add-on applications and widgets – for instance, a program that allows you to sync your Twitter and Facebook statuses – the site remains relatively uncluttered.

But that hasn’t stopped more than seven million unique visitors from logging on to Twitter since it launched in March 2006, says Silicon Valley web strategist Jeremiah Owyang.

But why do we care? According to University of South Florida sociology professor John Skvoretz, the explanation is simple: “To interact with people takes time, so it’s a way of passively keeping up with people.” But why do we ourselves tweet our every move for others to read?

“It gives you a sense of self-worth,” said Skvoretz, who specializes in social network analysis.

“You sort of say, ’If I find what they’re doing interesting, then maybe they’ll find what I’m doing interesting. Maybe, therefore, it is interesting’.”

And once you start tweeting, Skvoretz said, you can’t stop.

“You now have an audience, and now you have to perform for that audience.”

Two guys who know this well are Tampa, Fla. deejays Ratboy and Staypuff. The evening show co-hosts got a Twitter account three weeks ago and already have more than 750 followers.

“We only talked about it one time on our show, and then out of nowhere we had like 100 people following us,” Staypuff said.

Now they interact with listeners, post photos of the crowd during a live broadcast , and take pictures of themselves when fans tweet to ask if it’s really them.

People like Soulja Boy, Dane Cook and Tony Danza have all responded to Rat and Puff’s mass tweets, even though they don’t know each other personally. And whenever a celebrity writes or follows them, it leads to even more followers.

Eventually, all this online interaction makes people want to meet in person. Last March, Carrico, the Web developer, attended his first Twitter meet-up, or “Tweetup.”

Owyang, the California web strategist, had tweeted that he was coming to Tampa and invited his local followers to have dinner with him in SoHo. About 18 people showed up that night, tweeting, blogging, texting and shooting video of the dinner.

It may seem pointless: a bunch of strangers getting together to ignore each other while they play with their gadgets.

But Carrico says Tweetups can be productive.

Participants bring laptops to share their websites and blogs.

Some get job leads.

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