In July of 2006, a few lone chirps echoed through cyberspace. In the past five years, the chirping has turned into a deafening drone as over 190 million users worldwide have started tweeting.
Twitter, a social media outlet that allows users to publish 140 character messages, has become yet another hub of popular culture on the Internet. Many use the site as a venue for networking, sharing information and the expansion of new media.
“I got into Twitter partly for professional reasons for public relations and digital marketing,” sophomore Kensie Smith said. “But also for personal reasons, because Des Moines has a really strong social media community and there’s the ability to connect with a lot of other people on Twitter around Des Moines and around the country.”
Although many Drake students use Twitter to network, share links or learn about upcoming campus events, the site also facilitates trending, a means of categorizing popular information that is being shared on a local or a global scale.
“I tweet because of the Twitter community,” said Nicole Wilke, a senior English major. “It’s less about creeping through people’s Spring Break pictures and more about communicating and sharing.”
Twitter is more than just 140-character updates. The social media site also allows for trending topics to be viewed by users.
Trends can be filtered globally, by country or by city, allowing users to see what topics are making an international impact. Topics ranging from pop culture to current events generally comprise the list of trending items.
“Twitter is the best way to stay updated on news, chat with friends and follow celebrities,” said Becca Mataloni, a sophomore journalism major. “Also, many J-professors have it, so it’s a nice way to contact them.”
Of the year’s overall top trends, the Gulf Oil Spill, which garnered massive media attention from April until July, topped the list at No. 1, according to Twitter’s 2010 Year in Review. Subsequently ranked topics were the FIFA World Cup, the film “Inception” and the Haiti earthquake.
However, trending topics on Twitter also reflect the large user population that uses the site to respond to pop culture.
During the evening on March 27, the globally trending topic #BornThisDay appeared on the radar. The hashtag, a play on Lady Gaga’s hit song “Born This Way,” was being used in tweets celebrating the artist’s March 28 birthday.
“Thank you for trending #BornThisDay monsters!” Lady Gaga tweeted the morning of March 28. “The sweetest tweet! You are all the present I need in the world. I’ll be 25 in about 4 hrs!”
Twitter offers an open venue for communication between users that would not generally be available, as in the relationship between Lady Gaga and her fans. The site also creates a platform for users to promote viral video sensations.
Each week Twitter compiles a list of the week’s top trending topics. Last week, Internet music sensation Rebecca Black, a 13-year-old who has gained infamy with her song “Friday,” took the first place slot for the week’s trending topics. The teen’s Ark Music Factory song has received over 64 million views and has become the subject of countless YouTube parodies.
Falling behind Black was Elizabeth Taylor, who died March 27, at No. 6 and the conflict in Libya in seventh, pointing to the prevalence of pop culture icons over current events on the site’s global trending scale.
Hashtags, descriptive phrases or keywords denoted with a pound sign, are another way Twitter determines social trends and topics. Over the last week #SongsforJapan, a compilation album available on iTunes to help the Japanese Red Cross effort, and #100factsaboutme have been consistently trending global topics on Twitter.
“The best trending topic is #beastmode,” senior Kelsey Jones said. “You can throw it on after tweeting your favorite NFL player or brag about your awesome Twitter skills.”
Trending topics vary based on geographic location as many organizations use their hashtags to promote news and current events. In Des Moines, hashtags such as #dmweather, #smcdsm and #dmtweetup are prominently used for local weather, the Des Moines Social Media Club and Des Moines Tweetup.
“I tweet politics, current events & CHI sports news,” said senior journalism and politics double major Matt Vasilogambros, emulating Twitter’s 140-character style. “Fav TTs (trending topics) are #poorlifechoices #iacaucus & #tigerblood. But I may be a little obsessed…”
In past weeks, Charlie Sheen’s controversial and now notorious public rants created a trending frenzy of hashtags and catchphrases across Twitter. From #tigerblood to #winning, the jury is still out on whether or not Sheen’s newfound Internet popularity is a true win.
“My least favorite trending topic is anything Charlie Sheen-related,” Wilke said. “Although if I could capitalize on my drunken ramblings, I totally would.”