Many years ago, during my misbegotten stint as a landlord, I rented a house to a math professor and his family. They were harmless enough, I suppose, though a bit odd. Bruce (not his real name) looked as though he hadn’t cut his hair since high school and seemed to have only one pair of shoes — a pair of scuffed-up down-at-the-heels black dress loafers that I once saw him wearing while he was mowing the yard. His wife and children had a kind of otherwordly stare most days, as though they were waiting for some clue as to how one was supposed to respond to normal conversational cues.
The family fortune — such as it was — seemed to be tied up in hoarding multiple copies of every mass market science fiction paperback version ever written. Nearly every wall was lined with bookcases stuffed with the things. In some spots the bookcases were two deep.
He called me once to work on a problem with the bedroom window, and as he ushered me into the bedroom, I noticed a computer tucked away into a corner, the screen covered with a cascade of what looked to be some kind of binary code. Bruce explained that it was part of a distributed computing network analyzing radio telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial life. Not sure if he ever identified any signs, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if he discovered they were emanating from his own house.
All alien life aside, I thought about Bruce and his search when I was introduced to TweetGrid. It’s one of many Twitter search apps that allow to keep track of Twitter traffic on a real-time basis. TweetGrid, which you see if you check it out, allows you to run simultaneous real-time searches for lots of topics. It’s pretty amazing, really, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll be able to get a feel for the potential Twitter holds as a kind of barometer of internet chatter. Twitterfall does something similar, though instead of a separate box for each search, it melds them into a steady stream that — like Bruce’s running search for ET — flows down your screen like a waterfall.
I’m sure there are loads of other interesting Twitter apps out there that work on similar principles, and I do find it oddly mesmerizing to see what’s being said/linked/tweeted/retweeted on any given subject. Go ahead and plug in a hot topic of the day and then just sit back and watch. For a more focused — and ultimately more useful — exercise, plug in the name of your business or your college or the field in which you are trying to get a job and — presto — you’ll see what the Twitterverse is saying.
There are lots of ways this can and will be used in the future. For example, check out this amazing Twitter map the New York Times put together by analyzing Twitter traffic during the Super Bowl. And as the number of Twitter users continues to climb and climb and climb, thereby creating a more credible demographic from which to draw conclusions, more and more brainiacs are going to be figuring out how folks like us can use the tools they create.
And how will we find out about those tools? By keeping our eyes open, our ears to the ground, and our Twitter accounts open.