Micro-blogging or posting the details of one's doings on the Internet for the world to see is all the rage right now. It allows other people to have permanent access to the details of one's daily life.
As with traditional web-based diaries or blogs, micro-bloggers create a profile with a blog service and use it to post short entries. These posts are not normally more than 140 keystrokes long - shorter than a standard text message.
One need not call up the profile page with a browser to compose and read the micro-blog messages. They are instead sent and received via Instant Messenger, SMS, e-mail or other special micro-blogging software for the computer, depending on which distribution channel the respective service uses.
The best known service of this type is called Twitter. Launched roughly two years ago, it provides a solution for family members, friends, and colleagues who are curious to find out 'What are you doing right now?' The sender decides whether only specific recipients should receive the messages - 'tweets', in the site's lingo - or whether any and all Twitter users are welcome to read along.
Subscribe to enough tweets, and a permanent flow of messages begins pouring in, letting the recipient truly dive into the lives of others. 'Micro-blogging is like an ongoing hallway discussion, where there's always something new to experience and where you can plug in or tune out whenever you want,' explains Benedikt Koehler, a sociologist at the University of the German Federal Army in Munich. He is an expert in sociological internet phenomena.
The user is also fed interesting new titbits, as opposed to actively surfing to them on traditional blogs. Once subscribed, recipients automatically receive their messages. That is precisely the joy of this new communications form, Koehler says.
'Because of the character count limit, it doesn't take long to compose a micro-blogging post - and, as with chat, you can answer immediately and communicate with several discussion partners at the same time,' says Henning Behme from the Hanover-based computer technology magazine iX.
Success breeds imitation, and a series of new micro-blogging sites have sprung up of late. Pownce, Jaiku, and Friendfeed are all among the English-based variants. Versions in other languages have also appeared, such as the German sites Frazr, Wamadu and Niimo. Each promises additional functions and some twist of their own. Even popular social networks like Facebook, Myspace and Xing have now started working with the principle, and provide their members with an infrastructure for creating status reports.
But the original remains the big name in the field.
'Twitter has assumed a vanguard role in the world of micro-blogging and really has the potential to become the new digital communication service for the coming years,' says Behme. 'It could well be that 'to twitter' will find its place alongside 'to google' in the dictionary,' he says.
In Koehler's estimation, twittering has to date gained a foothold only among the most enthusiastic adherents of the Internet generation. The popularity of the short messages may grow beyond the borders of that group, though. Koehler is not yet ready to speak of a new mass medium, however. Micro-blogging is more likely to remain a niche player and serve as a complement to other communication means.