Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Counterpoint Monthy Article on Twitter

Mideast Iran Presidential Elections
The students at my school recently asked me to write an article on the difference between twitter and facebook for their monthly publication known as "Counterpoint Monthly." They are still working solely in the print world, so I'm reposting here so students and anyone else may leave comments.

Quiz - what do Iranian citizen journalists and famous people like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Taffee and Paris Hilton all have in common? Answer - they all use Twitter, one of the fastest growing social networks on the Internet. I was asked by the CP Monthly Team to write an article on the differences between two of the most popular social networks right now, Twitter and Facebook. This is an often discussed topic in the blogosphere with a host of well written blog posts that address the main similarities and differences. Danah Boyd, who is a social media researcher for Microsoft, recently wrote a stellar post over at her blog that addresses this question. You may access Dr. Boyd's piece at Given Boyd's excellent article and the fact that many of you are already avid Facebook users, I thought I would focus my 600 words on Twitter. I certainly don't intend for this to be a sales pitch on why you should use Twitter because it isn't without fault and it isn't for everyone. Instead, I'd like to simply share a few stories of how Twitter has been used by people around the world and how I use it to connect with others who share my passions and interests.

Out of the box, Twitter might seem like it is nothing more than a platform for blabbering about our mundane daily occurrences. While I've seen some of this in my experience over the past two years using Twitter, I've also witnessed some incredibly powerful stories of collaboration, sharing and creativity. For example, Southern California residents used the platform earlier this fall to share information about the Loma wildfires. Consider what happened this past June with the reporting of the protests following Iran's hotly contested election. The government of Iran effectively shut down all modern media outlets and journalists. The traditional way of reporting the news was completely closed. Iranian citizens, however, armed with Twitter, mobile phones, extraordinary willpower and creativity, Tweeted the news of their struggle.  In a show of solidarity and as a means to confuse the government, people outside of Iran turned their profile pictures to the color of the opposition party (green) and changed their location to Tehran, Iran. As the government blocked Twitter access inside of the country, people inside and outside of Iran worked together to create proxy sites that circumvented the governmental filtering. The government eventually blocked these proxies, but new ones were built and shared so that the news reporting would continue via Twitter. The US State Department even asked Twitter to delay a planned network maintenance outage so that the citizen journalists inside of Iran could continue their work without interruption. This was an incredible story of global collaboration! It is hard to believe that all of this was facilitated by a small little company from San Francisco that built a software platform around the single simple question of, "What are you doing right now?"

Who do I connect with on Twitter? I primarily use Twitter as a way to collaborate and share with other teachers around the world who are interested in the intersection of technology and learning. We share links to interesting blog posts and ideas about clever teaching ideas. The concept of the the Gator Radio Experience project here at Castilleja is the direct result of my Twitter interactions with other educators. Many of these educators know a great deal more than I about the world of live Internet webcasting and were incredibly helpful in helping us launch this project. I also follow university professors, a few authors, individuals and organizations with a green slant, and of course the University of Wisconsin - Madison's mascot, Bucky Badger!

Before creating a Twitter account or an account on any other social media platform, please talk things over with your parents. I highly recommend that you have a conversation with your parents in which you agree upon acceptable and unacceptable uses of social networks. While these tools may be used in incredibly productive and meaningful ways, they certainly can come back to create problems for us in the future. Also, please know that Twitter and all other social networking sites have a minimum age requirement in their terms of service. This minimum age tends to be 13 years old and should be respected. Finally, remember the Golden Rule as you work, share and collaborate in these powerful online communities.

If you'd like to leave comments about this story or if you'd like to see additional resources and information about Twitter, visit my professional blog at

Twitter Streams of Interest:
PeaceDot Project:
Gator Radio Experience:
Bucky Badger:
Mr. Montagne's Twitter Stream:
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