Twitter times

So what do you guys use Twitter for?

Not a rhetorical question, that — I’d really like to know. And the curiosity is prompted by a gradual change in my own use of the medium.

At first, the blog used to be for when I had something to say, and Twitter for when I wanted to hang with the crowd and have some fun. Shift 1 came when I realized that blogging has a certain limitation: it is just great for when you have a specific thought you want to put out there in the public domain, but sometimes you come across an interesting read you’d like to share, without any further amplification. At such times, it is almost too much trouble to log in to blog just to post a link. Enter Twitter: cut paste the link, preface it with a ‘Read’ note, and you’re done.

More recently, Twitter is — for me — changing character again. Besides pointing at interesting stuff to read, I find that if you follow people selectively, you end up with a well-curated web; the people you follow surface most of the links relating to your interest areas, and save you the trouble of surfing over to dozens of different sites.

Here’s what I found, during the very short drive to work this morning:

From the New York Review of Books blog, Malise Ruthven on a social revolution through the medium of public toilets — courtesy the NYRB Twitter feed.

The inimitable Jon Stewart on the ongoing ‘Pope Opera’, courtesy HuffPost.

News of a tell all look on Gandhi’s sex life. Yeah, *that* Gandhi. Courtesy UltraBrown.

A blog post on wikileaks as a primary journalism resource — wikileaks, as a post I noticed yesterday pointed out, is already scooping more stories than say the Washington Post has in its entire existence. Courtesy Msaleem.

Ghalib, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar. Courtesy ‘madversity’, a journalist and friend.

And that is a short list culled from over two dozen stories that surfaced on my stream during that short drive, of which I found at least five — in addition to the ones listed above — compelling.

It’s getting so I’m seriously contemplating taking my Twitter stream to the potty, replacing the traditional newspaper.

There is one other reason I’m getting to like Twitter. In a word, feedback. Post a thought here, and I can be fairly certain that within minutes — and often before the first comment is posted here — a dozen different people have reacted to it on my stream. Sometimes it is just a retweet — which tells me something too; specifically it tells me that the poster thought the content good enough to pass on to his friends. Often, it is questions — which tell me that perhaps the original post did not cover all the bases. And sometimes it is criticism — which, most times, points at fallacies in the original argument, or if it is misdirected, tells me I was right in the first instance.

All of which is precisely what you lacked as a print journalist, where the feedback was never this quick, this precise, and this focused. Add the curated web to the mix, and it tells you why I spend a large chunk of my spare time on Twitter these days.

A tangential point about the criticism: Twitter is not for the thin skinned; not for those who believe that they are delivering the sermon on the mount. Case in point, Sagarika Ghose. Check this out.

Here’s the deal: if what you chose to put out in the public domain is not thought through with due rigor, the universe out there will not make allowances for you. The people who read you have minds of their own — and on Twitter and in the comments field of blogs, rarely shy away from speaking it, loud and clear. If you can’t handle that heat, dude, save the pontifications for print, and for television, where you can control the feedback.

End of rant. Your turn — what do you use Twitter for, and why? How does it differ from say how you use Facebook? The feedback is important, folks — I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate these tools into what we do at Yahoo, and I’d like to go beyond the bleeding obvious. Appreciate any thoughts, links, etc.