Let's say for a moment that you have met a very special person. They appear normal, just like you, in fact. So what makes them so special, so out of the ordinary? You have just met the one person on Earth who doesn't know what Twitter is. That's right...the social media site your grandmother is using is a total mystery to this one, astonishing individual.
Once you have gotten up off of the ground and been attended to by a paramedic who assures you that you don't have a concussion, what do you say? Think about it: how do you really explain adequately a service we all use every day? It isn't as simple as you might think.
Now, we are going to step into a first person perspective here and try to explain to this theoretical time traveler/alien what Twitter is. Ready? Here we go:
That was a joke, right? No? Wow...alright. Well, Twitter is this social media site that...what's that? What is social media? This is going to be harder than I thought. Let's start from the beginning.
A social media site is a place where people go to share information, views and just communicate through the web. You can show them interesting or funny links, embed videos, post pictures or just talk through your status box. You can also comment on other people's posts, or join special groups dedicated things that are important to you.
There are different kinds of social media site. You have Facebook, which is a multipurpose site centered more around direct communication with people you really know. Then there is YouTube, where you share videos. Or Pinterest, where you put photos on a digital pinboard to collect or share with others.
Twitter is yet another site. Only this one is for shorter blurbs of information. The updates only allow 140 characters, so you have to be brief. This forces you to be more careful with your words, and to present only the most important information.
It is also a public format. While you can choose to make your Twitter private, most choose not to. So you are writing updates the entire world can see if they happen upon your profile. It is a great way to meet new people, find others interested in what you are, or just find something that makes you laugh or elicits some kind of reaction.
If you really enjoy something someone says, you can 'retweet it'. Which means you repost it with full credit using a simple button. If you really like someone, and want to keep up with them regularly, you 'follow' them. This gives you live updates on your feed page, so you can see every time they post.
How do you find people? That is actually the most interesting part about Twitter. Back when it was first created, in 2007, people had some problems. It used a unique search algorithm, and with its format and the nature of its public sharing, it made it hard to find and create groups. There was no way to do it without completely changing the way the site worked.
A developer working for the site named Chris Messina came up with a way to get around this. He made hashtags, which use the '#' symbol before a keyword. This creates an active link, that groups together all posts with the same hashtag in a post.
Let's say, for example, you wanted to lose weight. So you are finding others who also want to do that on Twitter for tips, inspiration and support. You could do a search for #fitness, #weightloss, #diet, #exercise or other relevant terms to find people. You could also put them in your own posts so others could find you.
In the end, this is referred to as microblogging. It is also a form of quickfire communication, and very mobile friendly. That is what Twitter is.
Now, join us in the modern century and get one, will you?