San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Social Media 101 From the Gurus

The number of people who use the online social network Twitter in Costa Rica has grown 103 percent over the last year. An estimated 11,041 Ticos use it.

Twitter has become a leading platform for personal updates and breaking news, with people all over the world posting snippets to before any other medium.

Seconds after an earthquake, you’ll see Twitter messages (“tweets”) flash across the computer screen so quickly you’d think those posting had anticipated the tremor; whereas reports on traditional sources, such as online newspapers or television, can take minutes.

“It was first thought of as a social network. Now, more and more people are seeing it as an information network,” said Dom Sagolla, co-creator of Twitter, during an all-day seminar last Friday, as part the Summit of the Future at Costa Rica’s Real Intercontinental Hotel.

Another benefit is that it turns everyone into a reporter, he continued.

When a plane landed in the Hudson River in New York City in January 2009, someone snapped a photo and uploaded it onto Twitter. That photo was used on and other news sources until other images could be compiled. The online network also helped in intelligence gathering during the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as people who were hiding alerted authorities as to the terrorists’ movements.


What is Twitter?


Twitter resembles an online chat, except the tweets are visible to people beyond those participating in a conversation. Posts, limited to 140 characters, pop up on the computer screen of any Twitter user who has clicked the “Follow” button on the sender’s page. For some avid users, this means thousands of virtual audience members.

In Costa Rica, all major media sources post to Twitter, as well as President Laura Chinchilla, and government agencies such as the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and museums, bringing real-time information to their followers.

Although Costa Ricans’ use of Twitter is growing by leaps and bounds, it’s far behind other countries in tweets per capita. Singapore tops the worldwide list, according to Sagolla, nearly doubling the number of tweets of the second place country, the Netherlands. Australia, New Zealand and the United States occupy third, fourth and fifth place respectively.


“The Web Is About People”


Also speaking at the Summit of the Future was Dave Morin, who recounted the story of Facebook, where he worked until leaving earlier this year to create a startup of his own.

Morin envisions a future in which cars will be geared up to tell you what music friends are listening to and if friends are driving nearby. A guy at a bar will know if the woman sitting two tables away shares as much as 90 percent of common tastes in everything that matters – or just 2 percent.

He says it’ll all be possible thanks to the online social networking giant Facebook, and that the future is almost here.

“The Web is not about information,” he said, taking a quiet jab at the network’s rival, Google, which prides itself on supreme organization of information. “The argument we tried to make at Facebook is that the Web is about people.”

Morin detailed Facebook’s transformation from its origins in 2004 as a virtual dorm room for college friends to a massive cyber landscape used by people from all walks of life around the globe. He was manager of Facebook Platform, a program that has enabled companies, from major news network CNN to beverage-maker and sports sponsor Red Bull, to integrate Facebook, accessing its millions of users.

Facebook has more than 400 million active users, all sharing information, photos, videos, personal updates, sometimes organizing parties or huge protests. Costa Rica experienced Facebook’s protest pull factor in February 2008 when residents were summoned through Facebook to join a multi-city march organized by Colombians against the drug-running rebel group called the FARC (TT, Feb. 8, 2008).

Morin spoke in detail about the “social graph,” a coveted cross-section of the world’s population that companies like Facebook have tried to harness for years. “Facebook’s mission is to map out the entire social graph of the entire world,” he said. Businesses, he said, are realizing the platform’s potential, launching company pages, groups, and events, even video games within the network site’s framework.

After the summit, Arturo Garro, a 40-year-old Costa Rican frequent social media-user who writes the blog “Así como lo oye” (, said the event was engaging.

“The talk in the morning on Twitter was very interesting, very illustrative,” he said. And on Morin’s talk in the afternoon, he said, “all the future developments – in television, cars, picking up girls – that’s what really caught my attention.”

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