Friday, March 16, 2007

QotW7: What exactly is Twitter?

The first time I was introduced to Twitter, which was about two days ago, I didn't know what to expect. Was this simply another bulletin or messaging board? It seemed that way to me. Within the past two days of experimenting with it in school, I came to the conclusion that there was not much difference between Twitter and the other normal Internet messaging programs that abound today. However, I did find that Twitter managed to stimulate much interaction between a community of "friends" and "followers". It was actually quite fun. This then begs the question of whether Twitter then, constitutes an online community or not.

Before we can decide on whether Twitter constitutes an online community, we first have to define the words "online community". Rheingold (1993) defines virtual community as "social aggregations that emerge from the [Internet] when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace" (p.5).

In this aspect, Twitter can be said to be a online/virtual community. As experienced firsthand in my class' Twitter community, there is socialization that goes on. We post our messages onto the board, indicating what we're currently doing, or starting mini discussion topics. Other "friends" or "followers" see your post, and can either reply to your post or start a new topic of their own. People within the community interact with one another, agreeing and disagreeing on certain topics, fostering stronger bonds between one another.

However, can Twitter really be considered as a community in the first place? According to Fernback & Thompson (1995), communities are a "public" concept. However, virtual communities are "communities of interest, rather than of geographical proximity or of historical or ethnic origin." We group together as a community because we share common interests, such as vocation as a student in UB, SIM. Being heavily involved in virtual communities then decreases the need or opportunity to interact with other members of the larger society.

In that sense, we then become a community within a larger community, losing the "public" concept of what a community is meant to constitute. We thus can be viewed as pseudocommunities as defined by McClellan (1994). He criticizes the effects of cyberspace communities in "creating mouse potatoes, people who hid from real life and spend their whole life goofing off in cyberspace."

Whether or not Twitter serves to bring communities together or to separate smaller communities from larger ones, I believe that Twitter still constitutes an online community. Communication is a key factor in building a community, and Twitter's main function is for friends to communicate with one another. Relationships are subsequently strengthened and fostered through this communication, and an online community is formed.


Fernback, J., & Thompson, B. (1995). Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? Retrieved March 16, 2007 from

McClellan, J. (1994). Netsurfers Paradise. The Observer, p8.

Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Retrieved March 16, 2007 from

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