Twitter has become such a faddish phenomenon it’s almost embarrassing. Amidst all the hype of celebrity tweeters and whatnot, it’s easy to lose sight of the flexibility and just plain usefulness of this tool.

This was driven home to me when I was recently visiting with my sister. She’s not very cyber-wired and wasn’t really familiar with Twitter. This despite the fact that she’s been using the service for over a year.

Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister

Back in late 2007 or so, my mom was frustrated in trying to communicate with her daughter and granddaughter. Mom liked e-mail while my sister and niece preferred text messages. Sister and niece didn’t spend much (if any) time in front of a computer, and Mom didn’t have a cell phone.

It occurred to me that Twitter could bridge this gap. It would allow my mom, my sister and my niece to stay in touch with each other via their tech of choice. Mom could post up from her computer and the girls would get it on their cell phones. They could text back and Mom could receive that on her computer.

Working through Mom we finally got it going in early 2008. So my sister had a Twitter account and was sending and receiving messages, but thought of it as a private communication channel with Mom. Little did she know I was following her updates too. But she wasn’t getting my updates until our recent visit, when I set her up to follow me.

I’ve hooked a number of friends into Twitter without ever sitting them in front of a computer. It can all be done via phone using The Official Twitter Text Commands. Unfortunately there are a few glitches. For example, my sister had to text both “follow editor_b” and “on editor_b”, the first command to subscribe to my updates and the second to turn device notifications on, i.e. to get those updates sent directly to her phone. This seems a little redundant to me; if you send a message from your phone to follow someone, I’d think it would be implied that you want to get their updates on your phone as well. Indeed, Twitter’s documentation even says “using follow/leave username from your phone is the same as using on/off username” but it didn’t work that way for us.

The important thing is that we enabled the communication. Now my sister, who lives over 800 miles away from me, can be a little more connected into my life. This blog can’t do that, and neither can e-mail or Flickr or Facebook or any of these other crazy services that I use. Only Twitter bridges the gap from the net to phone so easily.

My sister is hardly aware of the overheated hype surrounding Twitter, and I’m sure she couldn’t care less about it. She just wants to be in the loop when I get a speeding ticket in Cullman County or when I find my missing earring or when my daughter says a new word.

And now she is.

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