Whose Twitter Is It Anyway?

It may not have the historical resonance of Alexander Graham Bell’s "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!” But Oprah Winfrey’s first (and apparently unsuccessful) attempt at a tweet – "ASHTON IS NEXT" – is wielding some immediate impact and reaction.

The talk show queen’s debut Friday as a Twitter user, and her playful jab at Ashton Kutcher – who recently passed 1 million followers on the microblogging service, beating CNN to the mark – had some in the geek set predicting doom.

“Oprah and Ashton Will Destroy Twitter,” declared the headline above a column by PCMAG.com’s Lance Ulanoff, who wrote that celebrities are “almost uniformly useless on the service,” often using ghost posters and contributing little of substance in their messages of 140 characters or less.

The stars on Twitter, as Silicon Valley Insider recently noted, have quickly gone from tech gurus with big followings – like Robert Scoble – to the Oprahs and Ashtons. Like Facebook, which recently logged its 200 millionth user, Twitter is going mainstream – and is apparently headed for another growth spurt, thanks to Winfrey.

The value in Twitter rests in how you use it – especially in whom you follow. You can use Twitter to keep up with your favorite twittering celebrities or politicians. You can use it as a way to promote yourself or your business (even the Army is twittering). You can use it to follow friends and family. You can use it as a tool to distribute and receive everything from news to fun links.

Or you don’t have to use it at all.

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams probably doesn’t care how folks use it – just as long as they sign up. Williams, who was by Winfrey’s side on her TV show as she launched her initial tweet, is no doubt happily watching new members roll in, even if he still hasn’t announced how he plans to get the dollars rolling in.

Winfrey, meanwhile, had notched more than 400,000 followers by Monday night, as some predicted she’d soon attract a million users to Twitter’s ranks. She’d better hurry – Kutcher is closing in on 1.3 million followers.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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