So what is twitter anyway?

Yesterday I was using Google to search for a way to load balance more than one Edubuntu Server for an upcoming summer project.  Usually I can find what I am looking for on Google in the first page or two but this time all I could find was an old Linux Journal article from 2006 about a project called MILLE-XTERM.  I grew quite excited as I read through the article as the application was exactly what I needed.

My excitement was short lived as I went to the MILLE-XTERM site only to find that the project hadn’t been updated since 2006!  A dead end.  I went back to Google to see if I could find something more current but failed miserably.  During this time, twhirl had been chiming away with twitter posts and suddenly a light bulb went off.  Why not ask the twitterverse?  So I posted this question:

What ever happened to the MILLE-XTERM project – Load balanced LTSP thin clients, is there another way to do this?

I then went back to searching Google not really expecting anything to come of it.  Not 2 minutes later this popped up in twhirl:

AlexDLWS @anotherschwab Yup … LTSP-Cluster

Bingo! And shortly thereafter more good news :

bligneri @anotherschwab Hello. In fact, MILLE-XTERM has been integrated into LTSP and is now LTSP-Cluster. Same design, same team ;-) http://www. …

bligneri @anotherschwab Blog of developer, Revolutoin Linux page :

In less then 5 minutes, twitter had found the answer.  And then I realized what had happened.  This was the same feeling I got when I started using Google so many years ago.  The simple page with the little box you typed your terms into that magically revealed sites with the right answers.  The multiple search terms, having to use AND and OR, the quotes, re-arranging the terms.  No more.  Compared to what had come before google deserved to become a verb.  It just worked and the answers came.

Starting out in my career, my technical knowledge was broad but not very deep.  No matter; Google had the depth.  Together we were unstoppable.  Not sure how to setup RAID5 on an HP, Google it.  Need to repair a corrupt Exchange Information Store, Google it.  Windows, Linux, Solaris, Mac.  It didn’t matter.  Google expanded my abilities in ways I could have only dreamed.  Knowing what to search for became more important than simply knowing how to fix something.  I have used the former skill for life long learning, the latter continues to expire as technology evolves.

Google plugged me into a vast library of technical information and put it at my fingertips.  Now twitter has done something much the same; only it is not a library of information that is available, it is us.  We the people, the creators of the vast online forums and electronic documents, the blogs and the technets.  The authors are now on line and accessible.  But not just the authors.  As Google cataloged the digital knowledge of so many who took the time to contribute to the world wide web, now twitter makes it possible for the rest of us to participate.  The readers and the lurkers.  The admins too busy to write up a how-to or post a blog.  The teacher with 3o years experience that just learned how to get on the Internet yesterday.  We are now all just a tweet away.  Trying to find the best netbook to deploy in education, twitter it.  Need to load balance Edubuntu, twitter it. Don’t know how to follow the #educhat discussion on twitter, twitter it.

And so a new verb is born.  Google was a boon to the sharing of knowledge, but in many ways it is now confined by its great success at such a single purpose.   If Google is the village library then Twitter is the village.  And so my ah ha moment came for twitter this week just as it did once upon a time for Google.

People talk a lot about what twitter is or isn’t and how to use it.  Twitter is different, its disruptive, its new, its exciting, its the buzz.  Twitter is something for everyone.  For me it is a tool.  Where Google was the favorite tool in my tool bag, the big sledge hammer I could pull out and use to fix most any problem, twitter is my new shiny multi-tool, able to adapt and change to meet unexpected and challenging situations.  It can be search; it can be IM; it can be chat; it can be customer relations; it can be advertising; it can be collaboration in a classroom; it can be my PLN.  It can be whatever I need whenever I need it.

Friday it was search, today it’s shameless self promotion and whatever tool twitter becomes for me next, one thing is certain it won’t be arriving in a box.