07 July, 2009

Twittering About the Fest

Twittering About the Fest

By Colin Wardle

At this point I am sure we are all well aware of, if not annoyed by Facebook.

Twitter is the internet’s latest social networking and micro-blogging offering. It enables users to send and read each others' updates, known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to other users (known as followers) who have subscribed to them.

The brainchild of American software architect and businessmen, Jack Dorsey, Twitter began life as a crude notebook sketch some nine years ago, but has grown into a social networking service with over a million users. Since its launch two years ago Twitter has gained notable popularity worldwide and has often been referred to as the “SMS of the internet.”

One of the biggest changes to this year’s National Arts Festival would have to be its use of new media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

There are a number of tweets out there dedicated to Arts Festival News to people this year. The festival itself has a Twitter page with almost 500 followers (a lot by South African standards). The NAF CEO Tony Lankester has himself has tweeted about everything from the shows he’s seen and recommended, to various press interviews and a few organisational mishaps (like the relocation of Fair from the Village Green to Rhode). Local publications like Cue and Grocott’s Mail all have been delivering festival reviews, news headlines and snippets through Twitter. So has School of Journalism & Media Studies Prof. Guy Berger, who tweets more than several organisations put together.

A simple ‘artsfest’ keyword search on Twitter will reveal countless real-time Arts Festival-related tweets (try it).

For the past six days I, along with 17 other participants in the Future Journalist Programme (FJP), have spent most of our time cooped up in the Rhodes University Fountain computer lab. Like most people who travel to Grahamstown this time of year, we are trapped in a bubble where the only news that seems to freely reach us is festival news. Local sports and business pages have shrunk to give way to festival reviews, profiles, photo spreads and features. Without radio or TV, we have had to look to Twitter for everything from celebrity gossip to this year’s Wimbledon scores.

The National Arts Festival has always been a social networking catalyst for me; and if it were not for some friends I made at the National Arts Festival in 2007, I probably wouldn’t be on Facebook today. If it wasn’t for the FJP’s Winter School, I probably wouldn’t tweeting or have that much to ‘tweet’ about for that matter. One can only wonder what the next Festival holds.

Colin is a student at the University of Cape Town. He is participating in the Future Journalist Programme (FJP) Winter School at Rhodes University.

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