'A Twitter Year' In Review: 365 Days, 140 Characters Author Kate Bussmann doesn't turn on the TV when news breaks — she heads for Twitter. Her new book chronicles a year of cultural and political news through the widely used microblogging site.

'A Twitter Year' In Review: 365 Days, 140 Characters

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It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Sheir.

2011 was a year of big news, beginning with the Arizona shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords and ending with the sudden death of Kim Jong Il. Now, you could flip on the nightly news or keep it here on NPR to learn what's going on in the world, or you can do what author Kate Bussmann does - boot up Twitter. Bussmann is the author of a new book, "A Twitter Year: 365 Days in 140 Characters," which she describes as the first ever social media almanac.

KATE BUSSMANN: There are so many incredible writers out there on Twitter and so many really compelling firsthand accounts of the big news stories this year that it makes for a really interesting way to recap some of those big events.

SHEIR: How in the world did you decide which tweets to preserve in this book?

BUSSMANN: Yeah. Sometimes there was a little bit too much choice.


BUSSMANN: I had different ways of looking for tweets. Sometimes I was looking for something that was very descriptive because I tried to tell as much of each story as I could through tweets and nothing else. And then there were a lot of people who had interesting things to say whether they would be jokes in satire or much more spiky observations directed at politicians, for instance.

SHEIR: And we have so many people out there on Twitter. We have regular, you know, everyday laypeople civilians. We have celebrities, media figures. How do you measure the influence of someone on Twitter? Who are the important players, and how do they become that way? Why are they the important players?

BUSSMANN: Well, there are so many different ways you can measure that. To my mind, the way that you become influential on Twitter is to become an expert on something. So either you're an expert on breaking news so that if you follow them, you know that you won't miss a news story and you won't miss it as it happens, which is the really exciting thing about being on Twitter. And then there are a lot of people like those comedy accounts that purports to be Lord Voldemort. He has a huge number of followers and gets heavily retweeted because he is just very funny. So, for instance, on the 21st of May, he tweeted: #50thingsIhate: people. Irresistible really.

SHEIR: Absolutely. And the other big players, as you mentioned, are those who are perhaps breaking news. You've said that when news breaks, you don't turn on your TV, you go to Twitter.

BUSSMANN: Absolutely. And that's because I can get commentary from a lot of very, very interesting people simultaneously. And when you're watching live streaming news, often, it's the very bare news that you're seeing. So on Twitter, you have people analyzing every tiny detail, and it's really fascinating.

SHEIR: So all these things happening in real time. The idea of appointment television, for example, it's kind of old school, but it seems like it's making a resurgence. There are people actually tweeting while they watch TV. Why is that?

BUSSMANN: Because it's about creating a social experience. This is what's really interesting about Twitter in a nonnews way. It's created social events out of things that quite recently have been solitary events.

For instance, if you're a fan of "Glee" - I watch "Glee" sometimes. My husband really does not get it and is not interested. If I watch "Glee" with Twitter on, when it's being broadcast live, I can follow the hashtag for "Glee" and see what people are saying. There is a statistic that one of the people at Twitter released, which states that during the broadcast of an episode of "Glee" in the U.S., usage of Twitter goes up fortyfold, which is an incredible number. But that's the power of social TV, which is what it's being called these days.

SHEIR: There are a lot of Gleeks out there, I guess.


SHEIR: So it really is creating this community and not just in terms of entertainment, but, for instance, this was a year of many, many natural disasters. How did Twitter come into play?

BUSSMANN: Well, there are different ways in which it was useful to people who were experiencing it there. So, for instance, during the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster, there were people who were, for instance, by themselves in an apartment who used it just to get support, emotional support. They would tweet that they were, you know, what they were experiencing and people across the world were writing back to them saying: You'll be all right. And then if you look at what happened in Christchurch in New Zealand in February, which was another devastating earthquake, although on a different scale, nonetheless, there were a lot of people who were missing for several days, and people came to each other's help.

It was really incredibly emotional to read the tweets sent by people looking for family members, for instance. There was one case that I put in the book, which is the story of someone in San Francisco who tweeted looking for someone who could possibly go and check on his elderly father because he couldn't reach him by phone. And a total stranger saw this tweet and went to this man's house, found his father sitting outside in his car safe, and tweeted back to this man in San Francisco and said: Your father's OK. And it's the example of something that could not have happened without Twitter.

SHEIR: Now, your book runs from October 2010 to October 2011. And, of course, there's been plenty of news and gossip since then. What's happened in the past few months that you would say really rocked the Twittersphere?

BUSSMANN: Well, the Occupy movement was very interesting on Twitter. It was a subject that was a slow burn one. But a lot of people used it in very interesting ways. They used it to get supplies sent to the squares where they were camping, and they used it to organize upcoming protests.

SHEIR: So there are still a lot of people out there, Kate, maybe even some of our listeners who don't tweet. Would you say that they're really missing out on something?

BUSSMANN: I think they are, you know? I mean, I'm sure that you can live a very fulfilling life without being on Twitter. I'm not going to say you have to be on there. But there's a lot to be got out of it. A lot of people think that it's still people saying, this is what I had for breakfast, and there are still people who say that. But what I find it to be really useful as is primarily a news aggregator. I follow a lot of very interesting reporters all around the world who will give me the breaking news where they are as it happens. And then I also follow a lot of really very funny people, and I have - I've made friends on there too, which is just really nice, you know?

SHEIR: Kate Bussmann is the author of "A Twitter Year: 365 Days in 140 Characters." Thanks again, Kate.

BUSSMANN: Pleasure. Thank you.

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