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Don't get me started: Twitter

I'm at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

It's a surreptitious look but it's a look nonetheless. I'm avoiding chores to do it. I do it in bed. In the bathroom. I nip outside for a quick one. I'm even willing to withstand the cold to keep the sweep of my addiction quiet. Whenever I'm on my own really, I'm at it. On my phone, at work, at dinner under the table when I can get away with it. It's Twitter and it is the crystal meth of the social networking world. Yes, I'm fashionably late to the party but there's nothing like the zeal of the convert. Unlike most bandwagons, this is one you'll be welcomed to as you clamber aboard.

Twitter is frequently dismissed as fluff and nonsense by the outside world, but it can make significant differences. In Haiti there were some cases of rescue teams getting detailed real-time information about the location of people trapped under earthquake rubble. I was there last week to cover the story and it was then that I realised exactly what the applications of Twitter can include -- regular detailed updates from eyewitnesses to momentous events.

Anyone who's ever watched live text updates of a sports event will begin to understand the uses. It's like a live running commentary from a thousand voices offering views on what they're seeing. You just follow the ones you trust.

Graham Linehan, Stephen Fry, Shaq, Ashton Kutcher et al have been explaining patiently for a while to those of us with only occasional access to opposable thumbs that this is capable of changing how we interacted as humans. Of course, sometimes the information is incorrect but fooling a large amount of people a lot of the time is way more difficult when they have 140 characters to be dubious. Add in the power of thousands of like-minded people posting news, gossip, research, and Twitter is where people are gathering reams of information and filtering it quickly.

Sometimes the application is about key events like the rumblings of revolution in Tehran, sometimes it's about the new episode of Glee but you still get a critical mass of information immediately. Now I've been burned before, we all have. There's scarcely a 90s gadget or phone that I didn't succumb to. Facebook is now like one of those old colleagues who left years ago who you never really liked but feel obliged to talk to when you're stuck on the bus. Or a politician calling at your door looking to fix something you really need fixed, but with killer bad breath. In short, it's easy to get bored with it. Apart from playing Scrabble with mates, I used it to look at photographs of friends and anyone stupid enough not to protect their photos. Which it turns out is a lot of people, possibly including, but certainly not limited to, me. But Twitter is different.

I'm still following aid workers and Haitians explaining what the situation is like on the ground, but I've branched out, too, widened my little Twitter community beyond the pure work-related follows. I'm living the hive mind experience.

After all, the highlight of the rugby season, the Six Nations, starts this weekend and Brian O'Driscoll is a new Twitter arrival. He's been telling everyone about his food fascination and welcoming Rory Best back ahead of the tournament. It's possible he started it for corporate reasons -- there's a link to one of the sponsors if you click his profile -- but it seems like the question-and-answer sessions have hooked him, too. He rates the head chef in Fitzpatrick's in Killiney where the Irish team have their camp, recommends the fish of the day in the new Exchequer, which I think he exclusively revealed is part-owned by Gordon D'Arcy, and Juniors on Bath Avenue have the best sandwiches in town. I reckon he's a reliable source of information on culinary excellence. He's also reassuringly chilled out ahead of the Six Nations.

Twitter: Saving lives and telling us who does the best sandwich in the city -- I'm in.

www.twitter.com/gergilroy


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