The feed is like a collective stream of consciousness, served up in tidbits of 140 characters or less (this sentence, for perspective, is 100). Some are Deep — questions and ideas offered to trigger discussions. Many offer TinyURL links. Most are personal, light and silly.

And if you want to know what's up in Providence, you might want to tune in.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Twitter — the Web/mobile social networking tool — has taken hold in Rhode Island. It happened just in the last few months, but it's growing fast now.

Last week, Providence Geeks co-founder Jack Templin (@jacktemplin), who's stepped up his own Twitter usage in 2009, called for a "sound-off" on the RI Nexus blog to find other local users. Within hours, dozens responded; within two days, there were more than 100. Everyone started connecting.

Michelle Girasole (@sassymichelle), owner of the Sassy Ladies, a startup that helps women boost their business skills and network, quickly identified prospects and introduced herself via Twitter. It was "like the ultimate speed-networking event," she says.

Chris Hempel (@hempstyle), a graphic designer and Web developer, added about 25 users to his "follow" list and got a slew of new followers himself, including local college professors and entrepreneurs.

Templin was amazed by the response and by the exchanges. "It was like this whole parallel conversation going on," he says. The best part, he adds, is that it can easily move to face-to-face. In fact, Twitter is widely used to invite people to gatherings.

One avid local user is Saul Kaplan (@skap5), founder of the Business Innovation Factory and former state economic development director, who's good for about 20 "tweets" a day — from a link to a news article about the element boron, to the case for nationwide broadband wireless, to a note on being interviewed for this story: "Reporter said I was a heavy user. What has happened to me!"

"It's a very powerful tool if you have a clear point of view that you want to share," Kaplan says, especially if you want feedback to develop your ideas. Plus it's a "really great way" to extend your connections — he's following more than 1000 people and has more than 1000 followers himself, locally and around the world.

Already, Kaplan says, he's seen collaborations grow out of Twitter exchanges. And while it's still in the early adopter/geek stage, he says, he expects Twitter to become a must-use tool for pretty much everyone: "I think we're still early in understanding the full potential."

Some of the first to join have been old-style media outlets such as the Providence Journal (@projo), Rhode Island Monthly (@rimonthly), and ABC6 (@ABC6). The blog RI's Future (@rifuture) is using it more and more, as is event promoter QuickWhatsUp (@whatsupinri).

But while the potential for marketing is obvious, Kaplan says that's not how you make the most out of the site. "In the end, it has to be genuine," he says. "You have to be yourself. On these platforms, you can't be a commercial, because that's not what people respond to."

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