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Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres are among the many stars on Twitter

'I get to control the conversation I have with my fans,' LeVar Burton says.

September 26, 2009|TINA DAUNT

"Brevity," wrote the Bard, "is the soul of wit."

Just ask anyone who has ever sat through a rambling Oscar speech. There's an art to creating a haiku of narcissism.

Perhaps that's why many in the industry are flocking to Twitter, the social-networking site that lets stars -- and wannabe stars -- communicate directly to fans in 140-character messages transmitted in real time over the Internet.

Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears and band members from Coldplay are among the techno-savvy celebs who want to tell you what's on their minds. Lily Allen is on the social network, Twittering about her woes, as is Lindsay Lohan.

(Perhaps the character limit is a good thing. It leaves time for, well, reflection before sending the next message.)

As of now, celebrities account for the majority of Twitter's top 10 list; there's even a site -- www.celebritytweet .com -- dedicated to tracking star activity on Twitter. It's no surprise that Twitter's savvy Bay Area-based creators decided to hold a conference this week in Los Angeles, where there was much discussion about Hollywood's presence on the network.

Actor LeVar Burton, who participated in a panel with Dr. Drew Pinsky, Tyrese Gibson, Tony Hawk and Greg Grunberg, offered this explanation for his decision to go on Twitter: "I get to control the conversation I have with my fans. It's put my career back in my hands." (Burton has nearly 1.27 million followers.)

Noticeably missing from the Los Angeles Twitter gathering, however, was the celeb with more followers than anyone else on the network, a guy with the Twitter name @asplusk (a.k.a. actor Ashton Kutcher.)

The actor, best known for playing Michael Kelso in "That '70s Show" and for marrying Demi Moore, is the daily seer to nearly 3.7 million followers on the far-reaching network, which averages an estimated 500 tweets per second, according to Twitter insiders.

Kutcher has enough might to organize an army if he wanted to. Fortunately, his tweets are mostly a mixture of hey-this-is-what-I'm doing-now posts, mixed with political commentary and cheerful little self-help aphorisms -- sort of like a sexy Dr. Phil.

But don't think for a second that people who actually do have armies haven't noticed Kutcher's newfound audience. President Obama -- an early Twitter devotee -- recently tapped Kutcher to get out the word on charity projects.

Former President Bill Clinton invited the actor and Moore to New York this week for the annual Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering of some of the most powerful people in the world. Kutcher used the opportunity to live-tweet the event.

From a panel, he expressed his dismay that the first American to orbit the Earth -- John Glenn -- wasn't more hip on new media.

"Listening to John Glenn mock the social web because he doesn't understand it. I wonder if people mocked his space program."

Later, Kutcher was off tweeting about the new show he created, "The Beautiful Life: TBL," starring Mischa Barton. "You can get it on itunes," Kutcher suggested.

Although Twitter is already a key-networking tool in political campaigns and charitable fundraising, many feel its real power lies ahead, as computer program developers come up with new tools to organize and rally supporters and donors on the quickly growing network.

In a way, Twitter is a medium that speaks directly to the soul of the age: Instant messaging is made for a culture that abhors delayed gratification, and tweets of a few dozen words never will exhaust our notoriously short attention spans.

Habitual multi-taskers love the service because it gives them the ease of doing one thing when they're also doing something else.

And to be clear, it's not just a liberal Hollywood thing; Sen. John McCain and dozens of Republican members of Congress tweet. The Israeli Foreign Ministry holds news conferences on Twitter, and an American astronaut dispatched tweets from orbit while repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.

As in life, having a sense of humor makes you popular on the network. Or at least that's what author-comedian Chris Hardwick says. And he should know. He runs the popular blog, and he has more than 1 million followers on Twitter.

"I started twittering because of my blog, and then I just got absorbed immediately," Hardwick said in an interview this week at the Twitter conference. "Our lives have become a meld of reality and digital reality. We live in a reality show culture now. And it literally permeates everything."



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