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Emerging Technology Paper: Twitter


Introduction
How could one individual have such an effect on something as pronounced as
technology? In todays technological boom that is occurring throughout various areas of the
world, one can often forget that technology is socially constructed. Professor Bijker stresses that
technology and society are both human constructs . . . Technology is thus shaped not only by
societal structures and power relations, but also by the ingenuity and emotional commitment of
individuals. The characteristics of these individuals, however, are also a product of social
shaping (1985, p. 3-4). Many people are currently dwelling on the idea of technological
determinism in this age of constant technological advancement, in which technology is shaping
the people who use it. People with this view typically fear that technology will soon take over.
Therefore, it seems needed to be understood and remembered that any form of technology is not
much without the people who create it, use it and benefit from it. The various types of
technologies out in the world today originated from people, their innovators, and are always
transforming because of us as well. This process of social construction of technology continues
forever, because humans and society are constantly being constructed too. This paper seeks to
analyze the social construction of Twitter, how it came to be adopted, what made it succeed with
certain people in society, and how it may change due to social influences, in order to thrive in the
future.
Description of the Technology
The innovators who founded Twitter are Jack Dorsey (@Jack), Evan Williams (@Ev),
and Biz Stone (@Biz), who worked alongside with a team of less than ten workers. In 2006,
these employees were brainstorming in hopes of reinventing their failing podcasting company

Odeo, Inc. Jack Dorsey first suggested the notion of a service that uses SMS to tell small groups
what you are doing . . . His idea was to make it so simple that you dont even think about what
youre doing, you just type something and send it (Sagolla, 2009). The first version of Jacks
idea was created on March 21, 2006. As for the products name, the dictionary definition of
twitter is a short burst of inconsequential information. A perfect name, said @Jack because
thats exactly what the product was (Picard, 2011). However, it had only about a 50 person
user base consisting of the company and their immediate family. Since there were only a few
users at first, there was originally no message length restriction. Once Twitter publicly launched
in the spring of 2006, the maximum 140-characters limit was implemented because 160
characters was the SMS carrier limit and it allowed room in the message for a username (Picard,
2011). Even after its launch, the workers continued to make improvements to the product,
including private accounts, permalinks, RSS feeds, and later hashtags and more; each major
feature added tremendous gains in users and in usage per user (Sagolla, 2009). It has stemmed
from the desire to answer the simple question of What are you doing? into a new and popular
form of mediated communication with every user added. Each individual affected its
transformation into the well-known technology it is today.
Twitter is now a highly accessible social networking and microblogging service that
allows users to make and swap thoughts and information instantaneously, without barriers. Some
of the technologys well known features include its short and sweet 140-character microblogs,
also known as tweets, customizable profile pages with a 160-character biography, a location
field and a website field, the ability to protect updates from public view, to hashtag a trending
topic, and to retweet someone elses tweet. Twitter is also an internationally used social
technology, in which users can follow people outside their normal networking circles, like

celebrities, favorite brands, or even people who just share the same views, no matter the distance.
Furthermore, unlike on most online social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, the
relationship of following and being followed requires no reciprocation (Kwak, Lee, Moon, &
Park, 2010, p. 591), allowing users to have control over whose tweets they can read and vice
versa. Nowadays, Twitters unique attributes are unmatched by any other microblogging services
out there, and it has grown far from being just that. Society has caused it to adapt and change just
as we have.
SCOT Analysis
Social mediamobile and web-based applications that allow people to communicate
and share information across multiple plat formsis experiencing rapid growth and is being
adopted by many (Hughes et al., 2009, p. 1). After reading this quote taken from an analysis
discussing Twitter adoption, there are still questions that remain unanswered. Why was Twitter
adopted in the first place, who adopted it and who did not, and how has the technology grown
since then? At the time when Twitter was first introduced to the public in late spring of 2006, few
people understood its purpose and value. Since many people before were still paying per SMS
message, they believed that Twitter would run up their bills (Sagolla, 2009). In the beginning,
people did not know how to use it or see its appeal, but rather saw it as something that would
cost them more money. This social framework of the period when Twitter was first implemented
did not allow it to thrive as an emerging technology. It had to change in order to attract users and
give reason for them to use this specific microblogging service. For instance, once the innovators
of Twitter made it more easily and freely available via mobile devices, third-party applications,
and the Web, it broke into mainstream in 2008-09, when accounts and media attention grew
exponentially (Marwick et al., 2010, p. 116). During this different social context, society had

altered Twitter into more than just a social network but into a social media as well. Twitter no
longer exists just for friends to tell friends that theyre on their way to the gym or to eat out. Its
become a kind of hypergrapevine news resourcea way of instant messaging your circle of
friends about your interests . . . or consumer rants and raves . . . The service is even credited with
breaking news about fires and other natural disasters (Graham, 2008). From simply prompting
users to answer the question What are you doing?, Twitter users had created a constantly
updated timeline, or stream of short messages that range from humor and musings of life to links
and breaking news (Marwick et al., 2010, p. 116).
However, there is still the question of what types of social groups Twitter attracts and
why. Scholars at Northwestern University published their recent study in New Media & Society
about twitter adoption. The researchers compared users and non-users in hope of pinpointing
factors that may predict whether or not a person will use Twitter. The main conclusion they drew
from this investigation was that teens who were interested in certain types of content were more
likely to use Twitter (Larsen, 2011). This is primarily due to the fact that people who adopt
Twitter can easily follow their favorite topics via hashtags or even follow a popular celebritys
account. Their study also found that on average, people with higher levels of Internet-related
skills were more likely to use Twitter. With this idea, it is understood that those who have more
access to the Web have a greater aptitude or opportunity of using other similar technologies.
Furthermore, their research shows that there was a slight gender gap, with 20.1% of females
having adopted Twitter compared to 13.8% of male survey respondents (Larsen, 2011). In
addition, African Americans were discovered to adopt Twitter about 17% more than Whites and
slightly 20% more than Asians, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. According to their research,
these differentiations among the usage of Twitter among these racial groups can be explained

because members of this African American group are more likely to be interested in
entertainment and celebrity news than others. (Larsen, 2011). These social groups are the most
likely to adopt Twitter because they perceive this technology as beneficial to them. A later Pew
study further claimed that cellphone users between 18- and 24- years old, Internet users between
18- and 29- years old and residents of urban areas are more prevalent on Twitter (Solis, 2012).
This may be due to the fact that these age groups have grown up in the quickly advancing digital
age, and the smartphone is a staple for them. The 18-24 demographic is not only the fastest
growing group of Twitter adopters over the last year; they also represent the largest increase in
smartphone usage of any demographic over the same time period . . . Following true to typical
Internet usage, African Americans . . . also stand out as heavy mobile Twitter users [and] have
high rates of smartphone ownership (Solis, 2012). Those who may not adopt Twitter are those
who are older and are less adapt with newer technologies. Some people are also less likely to feel
the need to be continuously active on a social network like Twitter, especially if they are unsure
of how to use it. These individuals who do choose to utilize Twitter hold the most power in
shaping this social technology; as we change, it does too. Recently, Twitter introduced a tool on
Tuesday, November 12, 2013, called custom timelines, that allows its users to drag and drop
tweets to form custom lists of Twitter messages on whatever topics interests them . . .to make it
easy for anyone to create a best of Twitter list and could be greatly appealing to those heavy
users of Twitter who constantly scan the service looking for interesting nuggets and then share
them with their own followers and fans (Goel, 2013). This newest development is an example
of how people are molding Twitter in ways that is most beneficial to them.
Adoption Patterns and Predictions

Rogers diffusion of innovation theory is defined as the process by which an innovation


is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system
(Rogers, 2003, p. 5). This definition of diffusion of innovation highlights the four key
components that influence whether a technology such as Twitter is adopted: innovation,
communication channels, time and social system. An innovation in this context can be any
practice, idea, or object that is perceived as new for a certain individual or society. Therefore,
although Twitter has been public since 2006, people who have not heard about it or used it can
still view this technology as an innovation. The stages of deciding whether or not to adopt
Twitter include knowledge, in which one becomes aware of Twitter, persuasion, or when the
person forms a positive or negative attitude towards it, decision, in which the person engages in
the activities that lead to adoption or rejection, implementation, or when the person actually
utilizes Twitter, and confirmation, in which the person evaluates the outcomes of their
innovation-decision made. Interestingly, these decisions are not authoritative or collective
(Rogers, 2003, p. 162), but rather each member of a social system individually faces this fivestep process. This is important to note because it further shows how one person can have a huge
effect on something as immense as technology.
Each person in a social system plays a role in whether or not Twitter is successful and
used. Therefore, communication channels, like mass media, are crucial to the diffusion theory of
Twitter adoption because people see Twitter as real-time content sharing (Chang, 2011, p. 3), a
relatively new mode of mass communication, that helps spread awareness about itself. The more
people use Twitter to write and share information, the more Twitter is making itself known in
todays society. This spread of awareness is the first step towards change. Over time, after the
first 10-25% social system members adopt an innovation such as Twitter, also known as the early

adopters and early majority, there is a fairly rapid adoption by remaining members, or the late
majority. Then, there is a much longer, later period in which some laggards, who are
traditionalists and isolates in the area of emerging technology, eventually adopt the information
technology such as Twitter (Rogers, 2003, p. 23). With this idea, as Twitter is adopted by new
users, it influences and increases Twitters adoption rate. Currently, Twitter has almost 200
million users worldwide, in which about 460,000 new Twitter accounts are opened daily (Picard,
2011). Based on Rogers diffusion of innovation theory and Twitters present rate of adoption,
this information technology is likely to boom in the future. Not only is peoples knowledge of
Twitter increasing, but innovators are playing their role in incessantly working to improve
Twitters features so that when new users adopt it, it will be an even better social network, social
media, or whatever people choose to use it for.
Conclusion
Twitter has classified its service as a real-information network powered by people all
around the world that lets you share and discover whats happening now (Twitter.com). The
ubiquity and speed of Twitter coupled with a creative user-base leads to numerous, interesting
uses of Twitter. Since 2006, Twitter has been continuously changing due to social influences, like
the innovators and their developments, new adoption of Twitter users and uses, and the social
situation of society. Solis leaves us with a very accurate depiction of Twitter as a socially
constructed emerging information technology:
As Twitter becomes part of our digital lifestyle, we become increasingly elusive. Twitter
is a reflection of our society and what captivates online and offline. With everything we
share, we contribute to a searchable human index that forms a repository of collective

experiences and expressions. We are both patrons of Twitter as well as its architects and
librarians (Solis, 2012).
This quote emphasizes that Twitter is something that society has created and influenced, even if
we are also its users. This technology cannot be as successful and readily adopted without time
and communication among people of a social system.

References
Bijker, W. (1985). IntroductionOf bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs. (pp.1-17).
Chang, H. (2011, Feb. 3). A new perspective on Twitter hashtag use: Diffusion of innovation
theory. In Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology,
47(1), 1-4.
Goel, V. (2013, Nov. 12). Twitter introduces tool to make collecting and sharing tweets easier.
Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/twitterintroduces-tool-to-make-collecting-and-sharing-tweets-easier/
Graham, J. (2008, July 21). Twitter took off from simple to tweet success. USA Today.
Retrieved November 18, 2013, from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/products/200807-20-twitter-tweet-social-network_n.htm
Hughes, A. & Palen, L. (2009, May). Twitter adoption and use in mass convergence and
emergency events. In Twitter Adoption and Use in Crisis. (pp. 1-10).
Kwak, H., Lee, C., Moon, S., & Park, H. (2010, April). What is Twitter, a social network or a
news media? In Proceedings of the 19th international conference on World wide web (pp.
591-600). ACM.
Larsen, R. (2011, December 3). Explaining variation in Twitter adoption among a diverse group
of young adults. Retrieved Novemeber 19, 2013, from
http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/social-media/twitter-adoption-teens-youngadults#
Marwick, A. (2010, July 7). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context
collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), 114-133.

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Picard, A. (2012, Aug. 23). The history of Twitter, 140 characters at a time. Retrieved November
18, 2013, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/digital-culture/socialweb/the-history-of-twitter-140-characters-at-a-time/article573416/
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Sagolla, D. (2009, January 30). How Twitter was born. [Web log post] Retrieved November 18,
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http://pandodaily.com/2012/06/11/who-uses-twitter-anyway/
Twitter.com