Has Twitter become as big a phenomenon as Facebook?

When senior Andrew Conti first came to St. John’s in 2005, Facebook was the obvious social networking site of choice for most college students. Four years later, though, a slew of new networking sites have appeared on the Internet, with Twitter leading the pack – so much so that it has emerged as one of Conti’s favorite new services.

“It’s a nice way to share what you’re doing with other people, and a great way to hear from services, products, and even celebrities you enjoy hearing from,” Conti said. “You don’t have to follow people back like on Facebook, so you only get the updates that you’re interested in.”

Conti is not alone in his enjoyment of using Twitter. He is one of a countless number of St. John’s students and faculty members who have signed up for the free service in the last three years, cementing it as one of the most popular networking sites on the Internet.

Created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Twitter allows for anyone to sign in and post short messages (140 characters long) to update others about their daily lives.

Additionally, users can sign up to follow the messages (or “tweets”) of their friends and colleagues.

Sophomore Steve Kennedy found out about Twitter from a friend at another school. After signing up, he quickly found the service to be more accessible than other sites.

“It’s an interesting way to keep in touch with people, and it’s more convenient than Facebook,” he said. “It’s an interesting idea because you have to limit yourself, keep it short and concise, and I like that.”

Stephen Llano, a University speech professor and coach of the St. John’s Debate Team, has an account with both Twitter and Facebook. He sees the two as being very different forms of networking, though admitted that he is beginning to like Twitter more.

“I call Facebook ‘extraneous information overload,'” he joked. “I don’t want to know what type of extinct dinosaur you are, or what suit of cards you are after taking some online quizzes.”

Llano noted that many of Facebook’s recent changes seem aimed at copying some of Twitter’s most popular features.

“I think Facebook is feeling the pressure, so it created the news feed,” he said. “But it gives too much information. They need to filter that out. Why can’t I hit one button to hide all news about people taking quizzes?

“For Facebook, the status update is more of a conversation starter,” he continued. “A ‘tweet’ is more like a bumper sticker. So Facebook is more like a dialogue.”

Llano also spoke of the possible educational benefits of Twitter, and how the networking site could be used to complement the classroom.

“Creating class Twitters could prove useful for finding out if students are understanding what you’re teaching,” he said. “Allowing students to post questions and comments could prove a good way to see if you’re getting through to them.”

One way that Llano has used Twitter in an unconventional way is when he posted the motions his debate team was debating at tournaments throughout the year. By doing so, Llano said, he received high praise from colleagues and students who could not attend the tournaments, but instead followed his “tweets.”

Management professor and technology buff Charles Wankel also sees some educational value to Twitter.

“I myself would think it is ludicrous to send out messages that I am walking the dog or watching a certain movie,” Wankel said.

“What I see as a useful function for Twitter is for people working on a project together to coordinate and support each other using it. So for instance, one person could assure the others that her part would be completed on schedule; another could say they need a particular bit of programming or a particular article to complete their part and would appreciate one of the others helping with that; in other words, project management.”

Wankel acknowledged, though, that he prefers Facebook and other social networking sites over Twitter.

“Coming from a generation at the beginning of the alphabet, I find the non-interrupting nature of email, wiki, and blog communication to be a better fit,” he said. “I am connected to more than a thousand colleagues and students on Facebook and have an ongoing flow of minute-by-minute Facebook updates.”
Still, despite the possible educational benefits, most students seem more interested in the celebrity aspect to Twitter.

Junior Tara Weiss, for example, is one such student.

“I first heard about Twitter because of the ones that celebrities made, like Anderson Cooper and Perez Hilton,” she said. “I like how you can follow so many different things, not only celebrities.

“I think Facebook is still the first choice for most college students,” she added. “But Twitter is more convenient for me.”

Still, some students, like Conti, have found ways to make choosing between the two networking sites an unnecessary task.
“I now have Twitter update my Facebook status,” Conti said. “So I’ve effectively merged the two.”