This is the second in a series of short posts, where I attempt to pick out the most significant developments of 2008.

Twitter. Thoughts, ideas, headlines, jokes, random musings, status updates…all at 140 characters a pop.

Twitter went mainstream this year and, more importantly from my point of view, started to emerge as an almost indispensable tool for journalists and journalism.

As a news alert system, it’s hard to beat. Big media and ordinary folk alike are pushing out a steady stream of tweets on news large and small. Twitter serves as both headline news channel and eyewitness reporting.

It’s also multi-stream internet chat: among the people, I follow there are often as many as a dozen concurrent discussions going on (most of them heavily annotated with links). It’s not a way of building community, but a way of building communities.

Some journalists are using it for reporting, something pioneered by @rsylvester (Ron Sylvester). Some, to promote what they’re doing. Others treat it as a crowd-sourcing tool. Others use it conversationally, engaging and chatting with followers. The best of them do all of that.

(If I were to select a single local journalist as the prime example of how a journalist can use to Twitter, it would be @GillianShaw (Gillian Shaw) of the Vancouver Sun. Frequent updates, news links, observations, conversation: she does it all, and she does it well.)

Twitter is short and fast but, in the hands of someone like @jayrosen_nyu (Jay Rosen) or @yelvington (Steve Yelvington), that doesn’t mean in lacks depth. (Note: I offer Jay and Steve as examples: I could easily have used several dozen others.)

Finally, one of the things I like best about Twitter is that, in building a roster of people to follow, I have in effect created a wise group of personal editors who are constantly pointing to news, comment and interesting writing about issues I care deeply about (journalism, music, etc.). The conversation — sometimes silly, sometimes heated, sometimes deep — is a bonus.

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