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Holloway: Twitter not all it's made out to be
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Shhhhhh.

That’s what showed up on Shaquille O’Neal’s Twitter feed during halftime of a recent Phoenix Suns game — proof positive that even the players don’t care about NBA regular season games.

Shhhhhh.

That tweet, tweet you hear isn’t the first sound of spring, it’s millions of people voluntarily surrendering their privacy.

If you don’t get it, at least I’m not alone.

We’re talking about Twitter.com, a social networking site that allows users to share all the mundane details of their lives with a network of followers. Or in Shaq’s case, to tell all those followers to be quiet.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva drew the attention of the sports world to the Twitter craze when he posted the following update during halftime of a recent game:

"In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We’re playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up."

Way to stay focused, big guy.

Then, earlier this week, Lance Armstrong broke the news of his impending surgery to his 400,000-plus followers with this tweet:

"I’m alive! Broken clavicle (right). Hurts like hell for now. Surgery in a couple of days. Thanks for all the well wishes."

A few thoughts here:

Doesn’t the phrase "post my twitt" sound like something you shouldn’t be able to print in the newspaper?

And doesn’t "followers" carry some creepy connotations?

Cult leaders have followers, and having more than 400,000 of them makes you a bona fide menace to society.

But among Twits, er ... Twitter-ers ... it means that lots of people think you’re a big deal. And what could be more important than that?

Full disclosure: I’m a newly minted Twit, though some might argue the newness of my Twitdom. So far, only six people think I’m a big deal, but I am being followed by the Detroit Red Wings. That sounds ominous.

There’s a lot about this phenomenon that’s confusing — does anybody need to know what Souljah Boy had for lunch? — but its popularity is swelling like a rap star’s ego.

Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez has a Twitter account. So does Suns point guard Steve Nash. USC football coach Pete Carroll is currently tweeting to lobby for Will Ferrell to join Twitter Nation.

Everything about that sentence is weird.

But apparently, this is the cutting edge of sports marketing, if a bit Orwellian.

According to a report this week in the Arizona Republic, Amy Martin, the Director of Digital Media and Research for the Phoenix Suns uses social networking sites to monitor what the team’s fans are doing on the Internet.

She’s got software to determine how positive or negative their comments are, as well as their "level of authority," in the online world.

She then is able to take in demographic data from Suns fans in online communities like Twitter, and use it in marketing campaigns.

The Suns recently held a "Tweetup," or as stated on the team’s Web site, "Twitter night with da Phoenix Suns - LOL."

I’m not sure why that’s funny.

The promotion, which was the first of its kind in the NBA, included early entrance to the game for "Tweeps" (Twitter people, I’m assuming), as well as Suns/Twitter T-shirts, a special seating section known as "Twitterville" during the game and the opportunity to adjourn to the team’s practice court after the game "to mingle and possibly even meet a surprise Suns personality."

Tweeps: Twitter-riffic! LOL!

Me: Gag. :(

Must admit though, as a marketing tool, it seems to work. Athletes like it for the ability it gives them to connect to fans, and fans like it for the access to celebrities it gives them.

But why any athlete feels the need to connect with his fans during halftime is beyond my understanding.

Shhhhhh.

Get off the Internet. Go play basketball.

Brent Holloway is The Times sports editor. His columns appear each Friday.

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