Twitter. Its a chat room on steroids...

To continue the twitter theme from my last post, I thought I'd tell you a story....

So I’m sitting in my office and the IT Director hurries in, shoves a small black box, some cables and a piece of paper into my hand. “I’m off out” he said, “give this a whirl, I think you’ll like it”. And with that, off he trots.

I look at the box – a modem (remember those?!) and know enough to deduce that I needed to plug it into the office phone socket. After an hour or so of playing around and subjecting the girls on reception to screeching modem noises (I kept forgetting to add the ‘9’ to dial an outside line!) I was finally in.

Now I know what you are thinking – Modem? Phone line?? Well, this was 1993. The piece of paper was simply a list of IP addresses. And so it was that on that day, 17 years ago I took my first tentative steps on the ‘internet’ and I haven’t looked back since.

One element that fascinated me as my experience grew were chat rooms. Saying so sounds kind of seedy now for some reason, but back then I was inspired by how easy it was to chat with people all over the globe. Just like that. And, connection charges aside, it was cheap!

Chat rooms, of course, exploded in popularity, as did Netmeeting, ICQ and many others. However, despite the many legitimate uses for chat rooms and the special interest groups that came together in chat, their headline grabbing use as a tool for dodgy sex offender types saw them being largely abandoned by the major players including MSN. IM and Skype stepped in to some extent, but the collaborative, collective nature of the chat room has, for some time, been missing from my life.

Until Twitter came along that is.

Twitter has, for me, all the benefits of a chat room, without any of the draw backs. It’s a chatroom on steroids, with many common features:

  • Multiple conversations whilst still being able to see what others are saying
  • People being able to drop in and out of a conversation, without leaving the ‘chat’
  • The ability to chat in private – referred to as whispers in chat and DM in twitter parlance

The main differences are that chat rooms were largely specialist, with a few general open ‘lounges’. Twitter on the other hand is like one big open lounge, with the specialist bit taken care of with hashtags, lists or simply the people you follow.

Chat was not limited in length of message, but it was always short and to the point anyway. And chat spawned, and used extensively, the internet shorthand – smiley’s and shortened text. Yes, believe it or not young peeps, we had ;) Gr8 and brb way before mobile phones and msn!

But perhaps the main difference is the level of mainstream acceptance, particularly in business. I can’t imagine having a conversation with work colleagues at the time and trying to convince them it would be good if we all connected on chat, even during the day in the office! Whilst it can still be hard enough championing twitter usage in the workplace, it is already generally accepted and young, old, senior and junior alike are on twitter.

And they are talking about EXACTLY the same things that I did in chat rooms all those years ago. You see, technology moves on but nothing material really changes. Just attitudes it seems!

Now, time for some serious chat on twitter… ;)

Views: 291

Comment by Alasdair Murray on April 30, 2010 at 11:17am
I remember my first time having a go on the company computer that had internet access. it was back in about 1996 I think. I was working at a smallish ad agency and we had just got connected to the web. Anyway there I am, with a 'crowd' of three, all women, as I confidently set about showing them how the web works.

"What shall I type in as a search?" I thought to myself. What can be more innocent than my favourite football team - Crystal Palace? So sure enough, I typed in the words 'Crystal Palace' and nonchalantly clicked on the first search result that came up. This internet game is easy girls! Well it was until I clicked on that link. It turned out to be a porn site. Cue mutterings of 'pervert' , 'freak' and 'you ought to be locked up' as I tried to convince the dispersing 'crowd' that it was all a horrible, quite innocent, mistake.


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