Twittering for development? Really? How?

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ImageOne morning two weeks ago I learned that, three floors above me, World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in animated teleconference with superstar Shakira on education issues (Shakira heads her own foundation called Pies Descalzos --Barefoot). I got the news via the Twitter feed of 10 Downing St., since Gordon Brown was the third party in that conversation. I’ll admit it right away: I don’t get Twitter, the site that encourages you to post what you’re doing at any moment in 140 characters or fewer. Don’t see what’s the point. The only couple of feeds I’ve been interested in following are parodies of well-known characters, including the King of Spain (for English speakers, an example would be the twits from the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke). But I got intrigued when I saw Serious Institutions and People like the British PM using it and started wondering if there may actually be a point in getting the Bank to join.

Still unsure. You tell me what you think. This is what I’ve found so far:

  • The U.N. keeps an updated feed of Ban Ki-Moon’s agenda. Saving the distances between their respective positions and responsibilities, I still find it about as interesting as Hillary Clinton’s recently released own agenda during her White House years as First Lady. That is to say, not a lot, at least to me. Does this increase transparency?

  • Others like 10 Downing St. use it mostly as a way to share headlines that then link to longer news announcements, statements, and so on. Still not seduced, although numbers may prove I’m in the minority –it has more than 2,300 followers! They must be doing something right, because a similar Twitter from the White House has accumulated a lot more updates and yet has only a fraction of the followers.

  • NGOs and activist organizations seem to be making the most of it by sending out calls to action and calling attention to campaigns, just like SMS have been used for a few years already. Here we find Greenpeace USA or UK and Amnesty International. On a more anecdotical but riveting example, there’s the case of the journalism student who got arrested in Egypt while covering anti-government protests and twittered that single word –“arrested”—from his cell phone, getting his network of colleagues and bloggers to start moving things to get him out of jail.

  • Any organization can take advantage of Twitter for internal communications among members of a team, sure. But I’m interested in the external aspect and how it can be useful or interesting to you.

Having read now a bit more about it, I’m intrigued by its uses in learning (lots of discussions and examples here, here and here) and, generally, in countries where connectivity to the Web is low and mobile usage is really strong –which makes the 140-character limitation a very positive format. But I’m not down to specifics yet and don’t see any of the uses listed farther above as particularly fitting to the Bank, really. Unless you think otherwise and tell us so in great numbers: Do you use Twitter? Do you have ideas about how an institution like the Bank could make good use of it? I’m listening.


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