Even the New York Times is agog: there’s a valid, educational use for logging in to Twitter, the very popular “microblogging” service.
Twitter, a sort of lowest-common-denominator social website, has a very simple interface. You sign up for an account, and then you’re presented with a box that says, “What are you doing?” You can write in that you’re about to go jogging, you’re cooking dinner, writing your Pulitzer acceptance speech, etc. You can also “follow” other people’s twitter accounts, so that you can find out what all your friends are doing, too. Some people post to their accounts every so often; other folks post what they’re doing all the time. That’s pretty much it.
Veronica McGregor, the news services manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, created a Twitter account to keep the public up-to-date on every part of the Mars Phoenix Lander’s travels on the Red Planet. Twitter readers can find out what the Mars lander is doing all time, and read Ms. McGregor’s posts, written amusingly in the first person. Here’s a sample post: “I’m sitting on very flat surface here. Tiny rocks around my foot pads. The horizon is flat and looks perfect for digging!!!”
So now astronomy buffs, NASA fans, teachers & students can all keep track of what Phoenix is up to. This is a pretty cool use of a web 2.0 tool–and plenty of other people think so, too. When the NY Times reported on the Twitter just yesterday, the MarsPhoenix Twitter account had about 9600 followers. When I started “following” the Lander today, it had over 14,000. You can follow MarsPhoenix, too: http://twitter.com/MarsPhoenix.
Twitter, as a “microblogging” service, is probably blocked by school district internet filters. But it’s probably worth it to unblock this Twitter page, so the kids can find out what’s up…up there.