I signed up to use Twitter on 3rd June 2007. I can’t remember how I had heard about it, but I am the sort of person that likes new things, likes technology and likes to communicate…so it sounded just the thing for me.
I registered, looked around at what was there and then thought “Oh L”. I was disappointed because I couldn’t really see what to do with it. I searched on Twitter for some of my friends but couldn’t find any using it. After probably 20-30 minutes of playing around with it I gave up thinking that it was another exciting new thing that had turned out to be all hype….how wrong I was.
Fast forward eighteen months to December 2008. I was at a really interesting conference at the Institute of Civil Engineers. A guy called @Whatleydude was on stage talking about the company that he worked for then: Spinvox. At some point in his talk he said “Who here is on Twitter?”. I thought “Ah Twitter, I signed up for that ages ago, didn’t think much of it”. I put my hand in the air along with about 6 or 8 others from the approximately 80 people there. Luckily I was sitting next to two people who had their hands up too. I rudely whispered to the guy sitting next to me “Do you use Twitter? Do you like it?” He told me that he did and said I should download the ‘Tweetie’ app for my iPhone. Once I had that I started playing around, started following him: @madprof, and my friend @RolandHarwood sitting on the other side. I also added @Whatleydude and started tweeting all three of them. They tweeted back, we started having fun tweeting each other and suddenly I understood one of the things that is so great about Twitter: it gives you another dimension to your communication with others.
I’m a confirmed geek: my degree is in computer science and my PhD is in software engineering, so with finding geeky friends in mind I started searching for anyone saying geeky things on Twitter. I quickly found quite a lot of people and started tweeting some of them. I also used the ‘nearby’ function to look for people that were based near me, at the time I was on holiday in Cornwall with my family. I spent a lot of time on that holiday, too much according to my partner 😉 playing with Twitter and chatting to lots of new people with similar interests to me, it was great! I also chatted to local people about restaurants and places of interest in the area. I had discovered that I could get some very valuable information from experts very quickly….and all for free 🙂
After a couple of weeks of playing around with Twitter it dawned on me that I could possibly use it for something really useful, one of the great passions of my life: Saving Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park, just in case you don’t know is the place where the codebreakers worked during WW2 cracking German codes. The work done there is said to have shortened WW2 by 2 years saving around 22 millions lives. It is also the birthplace of the modern computer Colossus which was invented there by Tommy Flowers a Post Office Engineer and used to great success in decoding German messages.
I had been planning at some point to start talking on Twitter to people about Bletchley Park to see if anyone was interested in my campaign. I had put my Saving Bletchley Park blog as my homepage URL in my Twitter profile, but not actually mentioned it to anyone as yet. But, I didn’t need to worry. Before I even mentioned Bletchley Park to anyone I was contacted by a guy called @sizemore who said that he had looked at my profile and my blog and along with a friend called @documentally they were really interested in helping to save Bletchley Park. I was so excited. We arranged to have a chat once I was back at work after Xmas.
The rest, as they say, is history. We chatted, we went up to Bletchley Park along with @Jemimah_Knight from the BBC. @Documentally set up @BletchleyPark on Twitter giving Bletchley Park access to a whole new group of people mainly avid geeks who were really keen to both find out all about Bletchley Park and to help save it. Here’s a video that @Documentally shot on the day and an interview that @Jemimah_Knight recorded for BBC Pods and Blogs on the day.
Fast forward two years and Bletchley Park is saved, of course not only due to Twitter, but it definitely played a large role. Twitter has made a real difference in creating a community of people that without Twitter would not have found each other. Bletchley Park has received substantial funding from various sources including the Heritage Lottery fund and will not now have to close 🙂
So, why use Twitter? What can it do for you?
I think it depends who you are, what you do and what your interests are. For me it has helped raise awareness of an issue I cared about, to great effect. I have many new friends, and I mean *real* friends, that I’ve met through Twitter. I’ve found, perhaps not surprisingly, that people that I’ve chatted to for some time on Twitter have, when I’ve met them IRL (In Real Life) been exactly as I had imagined them.
So, for me, Twitter has been really useful, both personally and professionally. Perhaps you can find some use for it too? Go on give it a go, you too can be proud to be a Twit 😉