Do you Twitter?   Twitter is a microblogging software that allows you to post short updates, just 140 characters, in answer to the question: What are you doing?  The updates that people add to Twitter are called “tweets.”  You can choose to “follow” people, that is read their tweets.  And, people can choose to “follow” you, or read your updates.

I know, I know.  Another web application to update, what a pain.   I thought so at first, too.  But Twitter continues to surprise me in its usefulness.   I follow a range of people from Barack Obama to friends to people I don’t know offline but who post really interesting updates.   The most useful tweets are those that include links to other websites, so it’s one of the main ways I stay informed about breaking news these days.

And, I predict that Twitter is going to have increasing significance as a tool in sociological research.   Just last week, for example, I posted a short announcement about a new research project I’m doing for which I need a very specific set of respondents: feminist bloggers.  So, I posted an update on Twitter that I was looking for (at least) forty feminist bloggers to interview.     A feminist blogger I follow on Twitter re-posted, or “retweeted,” my call to her network of followers, then posted it on her blog.

A week later I have responses to my quick online survey from twenty feminist bloggers and follow-up (face-to-face and phone) interviews scheduled with 15 of those.   That’s nearly half my sample in a week.   Now, I’m considering revising the total sample size upward.

It’s not a representative sample, to be sure, but it is a solid “snowball” sample and a perfectly fine sampling strategy for qualitative research.    Twitter as sampling strategy simply means that the “old” way of snowball sampling, by asking respondents and key informants to recommend people, is now being mediated – and speeded up – through online networks.     This morning, I’m off for my first in person, face-to-face qualitative interview for this research project.   All arranged via the “snowball” sampling strategy for the digital era: Twitter.