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Microblogging: A guide to Twitter and the rest

A little more than two years ago, a new form of communication was birthed: microblogging.

Microblogging is a short form of blogging that allows users to send brief text or multimedia updates and publish them to a private or public audience. These messages can be published via a variety of means including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, or the Web.

While you may not be familiar with microblogging, you have probably heard of Twitter. Twitter has become the default example of microblogging, due in large part to its popularity. Twitter is a service that started as a side project by Odeo in March 2006. Shortly after spinning off as its own company in August 2007, it quickly became apparent that there was something unique and useful about the service.

twitter_logo1Twitter allows users to easily post 140-character updates to their user feed via an online site, text message, or by using any number of Twitter client applications. Users can follow as many other users as they like in an asymmetric relationship (the followed user does not have to follow back — this is different from Facebook, which requires mutual agreement to become a friend of someone). Twitter has proven remarkably useful for substantive communication for organizations, crowd sourcing, and emergency situations. As such, it is not just a tool for self-obsessed youth to tell the world about their daily habits, as it is often considered to be.

twitter_fail_whaleThe key to Twitter’s success is in its simplicity, ease of use, mobile capabilities, and application programming interface (API). The API allows developers to create applications with data from Twitter allowing for a multitude of ways to use and interact with Twitter (check out the Twitter fan wiki for a list of apps). However, even though Twitter is by far the most popular example of microblogging, it is not the only service available.

identicaThroughout 2008, Twitter had numerous problems with service downtime and outages. During this period, a number of competing services cropped up to fill the void. One such example is Identi.ca. Identi.ca closely mimics Twitter’s features and API, but employs one major difference: Identi.ca is fully open-source and built using entirely open standards. Identi.ca is built to be portable, so that it can operate with other microblogging services. Also, since it is open source, Identi.ca can address the stability issues that Twitter had in a more distributed and open network rather than relying on one company.

yammer-logoAnother service that popped up in 2008 is Yammer. Yammer uses the Twitter model, but places it within the corporate setting. Anyone with a corporate e-mail address (i.e., including @ksu.edu) can sign up for the service. Upon signing up, the user is automatically put into a network with others who have signed up with the same corporate address. Once in a network, users can befriend other users, recreate the company/university organization chart within the service, and create private or public groups. The nuts and bolts of Yammer are similar to Twitter in that the emphasis is on ease of posting short messages via text, IM, e-mail, etc., however, there is no 140-character limit. Due to its setup, Yammer can be very useful for organizations to communicate using the microblogging medium and could be very helpful to K-Staters for this purpose.

logo-tumblrLast but not least in this mini-roundup of microblogging services is Tumblr. Of all the services, Tumblr is most like a traditional blogging platform. However, just like the other microblogging services, it emphasizes short, easy-to-create messages. Of particular usefulness is the ability to post multimedia pictures and videos instead of just text. Tumblr mimics microblogging’s functionality by allowing users to “tumble” other user’s posts. Comments then appear as posts in the comment owner’s content stream, where their readers can read about what they liked/disliked (much like trackbacks and backlinks in blogging platforms).

These four services certainly are not exhaustive. Also take a peek at:

Look for next week’s InfoTech Tuesday to learn more about microblogging and how you can use aggregators to keep up with all these services.