Stephen Fry is probably responsible for a lot of things in life. I think he was the first person I heard talking about twitter on TV and to be honest I didn't really "get it" then. Something that's like writing a blog, but only in 140 characters. What's the point I thought – put it all in a blog post in as many characters as you want. Oh how wrong I was!
When you're new to twitter it can be a bit tricky to see how it all works. You start off following Stephen Fry and wondering why the world seems to be going on about how great this new thing is and instead you're just notified that he's stuck in a lift with some bloke that he's just taken a photograph of. I didn't tweet myself then – why would I when I couldn't see the point. Then I started following a few more people and found myself chuckling away at some of what they had to say. I realised that news organisations and papers had accounts and sent out links to articles and other news stories. I discovered that most of the BBC F1 team are on there telling you about what is going on in the F1 world between races. Then I found some locals on there and boy did things take off from there!
For once I saw people say things that I actually wanted to respond to. People asking questions that I could answer usefully. Little by little I started talking to these people and some of them even started talking directly to me. Suddenly I got it.
There's a fab article been published today in the Herts Advertiser about the Twitterati of St Albans - a group that I'm actually quite proud to be a member of – and it describes twitter as being "a bit like having all your favourite people: authors, sports stars, celebrities and if it suits your fancy, politicians, all in your very own private pub" and I don't think I could sum it up better than Laura Roberts has. You can choose exactly who is in your pub and bar those you don't want in. You can talk to who you want and the pub's open 24 hours a day.
Twitter is my starting point for many things online. I hear about more world events first via there then from television or radio and I understand I'm not alone in that. News spreads fast via twitter and although some of it is false, if you know which sources to trust you can often find out about major things like the plane that landed in the Hudson or the recent Concordia disaster before the news agencies publish their first stories.
As a stay at home mum one of the most important things to me is the local network that I've become part of. St Albans has a huge number of twitter users and I have to say that they are some of the lovliest, friendliest and varied people that I've ever had the pleasure to meet. I've met other local mums who have become genuine "real-life" friends, local business people where I've become one of their customers and loads of people who just know loads about everything. I even managed to find one local mum who is actually married to someone Mr C went to school with!
Very kind people I initially met online have bought me drinks in the pub, given me clothes their children have grown out of for LMC, lent LMC toys and books, given me discounts in local shops and play centres and shared laughter and tears over tea and cake. I have met so many of them in the flesh and really feel like I am part of a local community as a result. I am amazed at how many times people on there ask local questions and get instant responses from people nearby. From questions like why the Abbey flag was flying at half mast one day to what time the local tip was opening. There's always someone who knows the answer and wants to share that with you. We managed to get rid of our old broken washing machine to a local guy who wanted to use the drum to create a fire pit on his allotment site after a quick tweet and I even sorted out the lack of delivery of our local free paper after an online exchange with the editor. A request to find an accordian teacher so I could arrange lessons for Mr C as a Christmas present gave me a name and phone number within 45 minutes of asking.
Years ago people used to talk about being part of a community. People knew their neighbours, the local shop keepers and other families where they live. With people moving away from their hometowns due to work or family reasons and longer working hours these communities died off in many areas, but here in St Albans it is back thanks to twitter. I know more locals now than ever before and whenever I need to find out something it's my first port of call.
I guess I've got a lot to thank Stephen Fry for after all…
If you're on Twitter then you can find me at @BeingMrsC.