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Twitter Now Asks, "What's Happening?"

What's in a question? Twitter has long asked its users, "What are you doing?" This, of course, gave rise to the ubiquity of the status update, as people took Twitter's inquiry so literally that they would write about the most banal goings on -- from buying coffee to using the bathroom. But as Twitter's user base has grown exponentially, so have the style and content of tweets. Of late, substantive Twitter missives have become de rigeur, as tweets have chronicled the contested Iranian presidential election and disseminated other breaking news.

As such, Twitter decided yesterday to modify "What are you doing?" to the more appropriate "What's happening?" in order to reflect the open model of communication that tweeting now allows. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, wrote on the company's blog, "People, organizations, and businesses quickly began leveraging the open nature of the network to share anything they wanted, completely ignoring the original question, seemingly on a quest to both ask and answer a different, more immediate question."

Valleywag asked Welsh linguist David Crystal, who has written extensively on Internet linguistics, his thoughts on the new query. He responded:
"Twitter has become steadily more discursive, with people maintaining threads and introducing a great deal more interaction, rather than posting isolated tweets. As a result the focus has shifted from the individual to the group, and a more open question is required to capture this emphasis. What-doing looks inward. What-happening looks outward."
But what about the response from the tweeps themselves? A quick survey yielded ambivalence mixed with film references:
  • StellaGillham: "It makes me think 'What's happening, hot stuff' from Sixteen Candles."
  • educastilho: "Is it just me, or does anyone else hear Bill Lumbergh's voice now that Twitter asks you 'What's happening?'"
  • hughbriss: "I'm seeing blog posts about Twitter changing to, 'What's happening.' C'mon, is it really that earth shattering?"
What do you think about Twitter's new prompt? Is it a nefarious marketing ploy, a compelling ontological inquiry, or otherwise just irrelevant? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. [From: Twitter Blog and Valleywag]

Tags: linguistics, socialnetworking, twitter, whats happening, WhatsHappening

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