Alice Neville investigates Twitter - the latest social networking phenomenon
On Tuesday morning seven people were following me on Twitter. By Wednesday morning, I had 44 followers. With a little surreptitious viral marketing, "AlNev" had topped 60 by Thursday.
Okay, that doesn't escalate me to quite the same rarefied heights of celebrity as Britney Spears (700,166 followers and rising), British TV personality Stephen Fry (371,786), or even our own John Campbell (688). But nonetheless, I was pleased with how my little experiment was working.
My early followers were an intriguing mix. There was Denverfoodguy, a guy from Denver who likes, well, food, and there was William Roberts from the state of Georgia, a scary-looking man who tweets about country music and weight loss.
And there was James Clork, an Indonesian chap I had to remove because his constant tweets got a little irritating: "who is the handsomest guy in the world", "it is absolutely me", "who is the coolest guy in the world", "it is absolutely me". You get the picture.
Then (and far be it from me to claim the credit) New Zealand caught on.
3.23pm Tuesday; Green MP Sue Bradford from Parliament: "much mangling of the language in Questions today - best - Richard Worth's I don't have a clear erection ...'"
You thought the original cellphone text messages were designed for those with ADHD? They at least allowed the poster to text 160 characters, one-to-one with friends.
Twitter allows you to say less, to more people. It allows 140 characters, sent from your computer or cellphone to the whole online world.
Put it this way. If Moses had brought down the Ten Commandments from Mt Sinai, carved on an Authorised King James Version Tweet, they would read: "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before ...".
Martin Luther King would have had to dream faster: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the ..."
Twitter seems to be getting bigger: Twitter hitchhiker Paul Smith reaches New Zealand; Birmingham City University academics defend new social media degree where students will study Twitter; Courtney Love sparks libel suit with Twitter tirade against a fashion designer; Jennifer Aniston reportedly dumps her boyfriend for spending more Twittering than talking; NBA coach fined for criticising referee via Twitter; and, of course, New Zealand Parliament all a-twitter about fake Twitter accounts. But more of that later.
8.18pm Wednesday; 10 Downing St: "Sarah has given First Lady Michelle Obama some nice M&S summer clothes and sunglasses to pass on to Malia and Sasha."
It's been around for a couple of years but Twitter has largely been outshone by more prominent sites like Facebook and MySpace. Twitter has been gaining ground, though, and now its users are thought to number around six million.
Accurate worldwide figures are difficult to find, but the Hitwise website says that, in the past year, Twitter's UK traffic has increased by more than 3000 per cent.
In February last year, US hit counter compete.com ranked Twitter 22nd in its list of top 25 social networks. In this year's list it had jumped to third.
The influence Twitter wields comes not just from how many people use it, but who these people are and what they tweet.
One example is Fry - English comedian, long-form writer, and prolific short-form tweeter.
A few months ago Fry announced the new BlackBerry Storm phone was "shockingly bad", and sales of the phone reportedly nose-dived.
In February, Fry heard via Twitter about the campaign against the passing of New Zealand's Section 92A copyright law, which would have allowed internet service providers to terminate users' accounts on suspicion of copyright infringement. Fry expressed his concerns in a couple of tweets and voila, the section was scrapped.
12.15pm Wednesday; Stephen Fry from Bali: "What ho, tutti. Sorry for prolonged twilence signal v unreliable. About to board boat & go island hopping Rinci & Komodo. Poss blackout :("
Twitter was born in 2006 - the brainchild of 30-something San Franciscans Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass. The system was first used internally by a podcasting company, but by 2007 it was making deeper inroads.
In Britain's Independent, new media writer Andrew Keen said February 2009 was "the month when Twitter replaced Facebook as the hottest and coolest company in Silicon Valley".
A survey of 200 digital marketing execs showed 40 per cent of them considered Twitter the most effective financial investment for businesses. Facebook got just 15 per cent.
Revenue is where Twitter needs to up its game - venture capitalists have valued the site at US$250 million ($440m), but it doesn't run ads or charge for membership, so thus far Twitter has made next to nothing. It's popular with businesses - in New Zealand, Telecom, Vodafone and Air New Zealand are all on Twitter - and there has been talk the site will start charging them.
Facebook proved a cash cow for its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, so if Twitter's bosses are looking to make a buck, they may need to up their game. A business plan is set to be announced this year.
8.32am Thursday; Oliver Driver's dog Jack tweets from his owner's feet during Sunrise show: "I got a ball, I got a ball, I got a ball."
Before this week I was a Twitter sceptic. I was a member, but considered it a lesser version of Facebook - social networking without the fun stuff like Scrabble (or Scrabble-like non-copyright-infringing versions of it), inane quizzes, event invitations, friends' photos, poking and stalking. Tweets are just like Facebook statuses anyway, so what's the point?
But I hid my disdain as I was instructed to dedicate the week to Twitter - follow everyone, update constantly, link like there's no tomorrow. In short, become New Zealand's latest Twitter phenomenon - everyone would follow me, enticed by my hilariously insightful tweets. How could I fail? And even if I did, it was better than real work, surely.
Anyway, all the cool kids seem to be ditching Facebook and moving to Twitter. Facebook, some reckon, has jumped the shark. Paranoid murmurings began last year when it was revealed Facebook owned all the information you posted. This year's layout change was the last straw - a group set up so people could vote on this shocking change attracted more than 1.7 million members.
I soon found, however, that being big on Twitter was not so simple. I had a lot of competition. "Be wittier," my boss told me. The pressure was intense.
But soon enough I got into the swing of this Twitter business. It became quite addictive. Its appeal, I think, is in its simplicity. Getting across your point in 140 characters or less is a skill that some have honed to a fine art. I wanted to be one of them.
1.11am Thursday; Guardian tweeter Jemima Kiss, London: "Eating a very large portion of cold rice out of a Tupperware at my desk. Hard times."
Tweets aside, the best thing about Twitter is that you can follow people you don't know from a bar of soap. On Facebook, if you befriend a whole bunch of folk you've never met, you're a weirdo.
On Twitter, I've got Barack Obama, David Bowie, P Diddy, MC Hammer and Martha Stewart, to name but a few.
Though a member can choose super-strict settings where they have to approve anyone who wants to follows them, few insisted on vetting me. One was Prime Minister John Key. What gives, John? If the President of the United States of America is okay with me (and is now following me back, even), then surely I can't be too bad?
My request to follow Mr Key is still listed as "pending". I wait with bated breath.
The Labour MPs weren't so precious - surprisingly candid, actually. Or so I thought ...
I started following a whole bunch, including Phil Goff, David Cunliffe, Shane Jones and Clayton Cosgrove. Some of their observations were hilariously blunt - Cosgrove called Richard Worth a "Tory sleaze", and Cunliffe moaned about not getting more questions in the House.
It was riveting. But unfortunately, too good to be true. When Key tried to table Cunliffe's statements during question time on Wednesday, Cunliffe informed him that he'd been had.
"I have never sent a tweet and never, to my knowledge, received a tweet," the Labour MP said.
Cunliffe told me that Labour staffers had alerted him to the Twitter imposter earlier in the week - a right-wing blogger is the culprit, Labour says.
The pages continued to be updated following the Parliament controversy and well after Labour asked Twitter to remove them, with the culprit openly enjoying the furore he (or she) had created.
Even with the disappointment of the fake Twittering MPs, the real Parliamentary tweets - while not nearly as bitchy - are still worth following. The beauty of Twitter is you can tweet from your phone wherever you may be - and for these Twitterers, that's often while the House is sitting.
9.49pm Thursday April 2. Blogger Cameron Slater accuses me of being an imposter as well: "wonders why the HoS is operating a fake Twitter account and following bloggers and others?"
It is not just MPs. Blame the egos, but broadcasters seem to be Joe Cottoning on as well. The Edge's Jay-Jay Feeney tweeted about being in pain following her latest wax, while ZM's Pauline Gillespie let us know she had bought some ridiculous white boots.
John Campbell is a recent enthusiastic Twitter convert - and a popular one. After just over a week of tweets, Campbell had nearly 700 followers. On Thursday he tweeted about the new make-up he was having applied before going on air for Campbell Live.
Twitchiker Paul Smith, who made his way to New Zealand solely on the goodwill of fellow tweeters, was the inspiration, says Campbell, after he interviewed him.
"I have to say I find it thoroughly engaging," said Campbell, who had avoided all social networking prior to his Twitter conversion. "It's most unexpected."
Usually known for his love of talking, talking and talking, Campbell says it's refreshing to be limited to 140 characters.
"For someone like me who's reasonably purple and verbose it's quite lovely to be curtailed." (That's 89 characters, for the record).
He compares it to the way neighbours get to know each other over the years through brief exchanges at the letterbox. "You get to know people terribly well but you sort of get to know them as you come and go from your car or walk the kids to school, and they are necessarily short transactions. Twitter kind of replicates those transactions, I think."
10.21am Friday; celebrity blogger Perez Hilton: "What's your favourite thing about Miley Cyrus????"
While at times it is certainly the domain of the banal, boring or downright weird, Twitter is increasingly becoming a legitimate news provider as well.
On April Fool's Day, The Guardian even announced it was ditching print after 188 years and moving solely to Twitter - each story being reduced to 140 characters. Well, yes, perhaps best not to read too much into that, but media outlets from CNN to Al Jazeera are all on Twitter, as is the New Zealand Herald and others in this country.
Twitter has on occasions been the first source for breaking news. In May last year Twitter was buzzing with news of the Szechuan earthquake in China, allegedly before news organisations even knew it was happening.
This year, when British 29-year-old Rob Williams went missing while skiing in the Swiss Alps, fellow climbers obtained his cellphone number from Twitter to ring it under the snow. Unfortunately, it was too late and he perished.
Twitter has also found its way into the courtroom. Eric Wuest, a juror on a high-profile, five-month-long corruption case in Philadelphia, tweeted throughout the trail. Last month, after suggesting on Twitter that a verdict could be near, Wuest found himself called into the judge's chambers. Defence lawyers are planning to appeal the decision based on Wuest's tweets.
And in New Zealand, TV3 news has set up a David Bain trial Twitter account, tweeting a constant news feed of updates from the retrial throughout the day.
Then on Friday night, when I had 98 followers and was on the cusp of my century, something happened - just as it had to the telegraph and fax and Facebook before. First one person stopped following me, then another. My numbers were dropping. I was old news. The ADHD crowd had lost interest in me.
So perhaps I shall commit "Twitter suicide". After all, nothing can cement my candle-in-the-wind celebrity status more than just walking away from it all - the Kurt Cobain of Twitter.
Forget flowers and candle-lit vigils. Just Tweet your grief at my passing in no more than 140 characters.