Faces to watch 2009: film, TV, music and Web
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The micro-blogging service has been around for a couple of years now, but this year it pulled an astonishing metamorphosis. Twitter started as a way for Bay Area Web types to keep track of each others' moment-by-moment doings. That had limited appeal because, well, you can't say much in 140 characters.
Or so everyone thought. Soon a kind of Twitter "elite" emerged -- people with thousands or tens of thousands of "followers" receiving their messages, so that every "tweet" became a peculiar but powerful kind of one-person broadcast. Users could also "tag" their tweets with a word, a simple bit of magic that allowed every message tagged with "#earthquake," "#election" or "#mumbai" to fall into a "stream," a crowded, messy river of related chirps, sometimes from thousands of different contributors. The immediacy and reach of this new medium is unrivaled, but it's still too fast and wild to be useful.
Twitter has suggested it will supply users with filtration and analysis tools that will help tame its info rapids. But the site has been broken so often that the illustrated whale it uses to alert users to an outage has became a famous Web icon. So whether Twitter flies or sinks is a widely discussed over-under.
-- David Sarno