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C.C. Chapman talks on his blog about Twittering beyond the box – uses of Twitter beyond your personal community, and suggests applications like politics, storytelling, celebrities, erotica, news, and sports, and wants to know our thoughts on what else Twitter can be used for.

What is Twitter? Ultimately, Twitter is length limited asynchronous multicast IM. Some people have referred to it as web-based chat. You have instantaneous communication to a group of people in a short form message. As I like to do these days, what things looking back can be used to look forwards?

Twitter reminds me most of another medium where message length was important, where brevity was at a premium. Far back, before the days of IM, before the days of the publicly accessible Internet, there was the telegram. Western Union, known to most younger generations as that money transfer service, was one of the largest telegraphy companies of its day.

What can you do in 140 characters or less? Well, Jack Hodgson and I exchanged weather reports yesterday. If you know anything about aviation, there’s a data format called METAR that compresses weather conditions and a forecast into a very tight sequence of characters. Here, for example, is a weather for Boston, MA.

KBOS 021454Z 09022G27KT 3SM -RA BR OVC008 03/03 A2976 RMK AO2 PK WND 09031/1430 TWR VIS 4 PRESFR SLP078 P0018 60048 T00330033 56050

Decoded, it reads:

Location………..: KBOS
Day of month…….: 02
Time……………: 14:54 UTC
Wind……………: true direction = 090 degrees; speed = 22 knots with gusts of 27 knots
Weather…………: light rain
Weather…………: mist
Cloud coverage…..: overcast (8 oktas) at 800 feet above aerodrome level
Temperature……..: 03 degrees Celsius
Dewpoint………..: 03 degrees Celsius

Another gentleman named Derek Rose found a telegram in his attic, a message that was encoded and only 133 characters long, from his grandfather to his grandmother, but couldn’t read it.


The story of it, and what the messages say, is a fascinating read.

140 characters may not seem like a lot, but you can compress an awful lot into 140 characters. Even if you can’t write anything out fully, you can use a cipher to “compress” your messages, as travelers did at the turn of the last century to save money on telegrams (since you paid by the word). An example cited on Retrogram is:

Minder Retrim

Which when run against the cipher book expanded to:

Has the SS Massachusetts arrived, or have you heard of her being spoken? We feel uneasy at absence of news of her. Have other ships from same quarter arrived yet?

On ko chi shin. Study something old to learn something new. Telegrams and telegraphy were used for decades to transmit information in a tightly compressed format. Twitter can leverage many of the ideas from the 20th century into the 21st. Sports scores, stock market updates, encrypted codes displayed in the open – anything that was done back then with a telegraph you can Twitter today.

Twitter away! Your thoughts in the comments here and at C.C.’s blog post if you please.