Shamara, the midday DJ at WUSL-FM (98.9), Power 99, is on a roll. It's 11 a.m., and she's playing "Unthinkable" by Alicia Keys and Drake.
As she plays hits for her listeners, she's also tweeting - sending Twitter messages to fans and friends on her BlackBerry.
"On air @Power99Philly come get a musical orgasm," she writes, with a link to a website where her show can be heard. "hope u gotta :) on ur face," she tweets. "Hold up I believe my friends on facebook gonna start cussing me out - ain't been there in a minute . . . brb yo."
Music, tweet music.
Shamara is, according to the website Twitaholic.com, the 19th-biggest Twitter user in the Philadelphia region, with more than 7,500 followers. Since joining Twitter 17 months ago, she has sent out an astounding 44,668 tweets, about 85 a day.
Like many users of Twitter, and like all of Philly's biggest tweeters, Shamara uses Twitter for three purposes, which melt into one another:
Making friends, one by one.
Building communities of people who come together over shared interests.
Shamara and other huge tweeters show how, in the social-media world of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the private is increasingly merging with the public.
It's estimated that more than 100 million people worldwide use Twitter, sending out text messages of 140 characters or fewer. Popular as a personal means of staying in touch, tweeting has also taken off in business and entertainment.
Twitter figures are rough. When users create a Twitter account, they can fill in their location - but they don't have to, and they don't have to tell the truth. Websites such as twitter.grader.com and Twitaholic count those who enter Philadelphia and track how busy they are.
Philadelphia tweets more than cities many times its size. The world's 53d-most-populous city, Philly is 24th in Twitter traffic, according to twitter.grader.com. It ranks ahead of Mumbai and Tehran and just behind Bangalore.
The top tweeters
So who are Philadelphia's top tweeters? In terms of followers, according to Twitaholic, the city's Twitter king is Ahmir Thompson, better known as ?uestlove, drummer for the Roots, the popular hip-hop band and house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. ?uestlove has a remarkable 1,341,925 followers.
"Twitter is the fastest, most rapid means of communicating with my network," ?uestlove says via e-mail. "Highly effective in conducting focus groups and the Roots' demographic. . . . I can also test my comedy material and cause instant backlash in 140 characters or less."
No. 2 is Urban Outfitters, the clothing company, with 210,865 followers. The rest of the top 10, in order: Jim MacMillan, former Philadelphia Daily News photographer and now freelance journalist, 79,309 followers; John Gruber, a tech commentator who writes about Apple products on his blog, "Daring Fireball," 75,346; Bob Garrett, a social-media consultant and blogger, 73,406; a jeweler named Judy, with 30,951 followers; poet Jack Storm, whose tweets link to his YouTube channel, 25,225; marketer Beth Harte of Serengeti Communications, with 20,171 followers; life coach Phyllis Mufson, 18,613; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with 17,265 followers.
Hip-hop artists, poets, jewelers, bloggers - they may seem miscellaneous, except that these people are doing, on a huge scale, what millions are doing around the world. Old distinctions - between high and low, famous and not, friend and business contact - melt away on this ephemeral, on-the-go, instantaneous chat stream. Every person interviewed for this article stressed that Twitter is a great leveler. That has made it popular and powerful.
The new triangulators
Colleen Padilla, 34, known as "Classy Mommy," has a website by that name. And a blog. And a Twitter account. The website is sort of a Consumer Reports on children's clothes, toys, books, and stuff. Her blog bolsters the website, giving Padilla's take on issues. And her Twitter account - classymommy, No. 30 in the Philadelphia area (4,991 followers) - has attracted a community of mothers who turn cyberspace into a big kitchen where they can sit around and learn about life while the kettle steams.
"Twitter is a mom's playground," says Padilla, who lives in Phoenixville. "I can promote my business on it, sure, but it's a great place, 24/7, to ask questions. If you have a sick child, you can tweet about it, and other moms can share experiences and useful ideas. Or if you're looking for an activity - 'My kid is getting interested in language and rhyming. Any books to suggest?' - you can put your question out there."
Padilla is one face of the new social-media business world. "The website isn't enough any more," she says, "because your users are also on Facebook and Twitter. You have to be on all of them, the blog, the site, the tweets."
She says Twitter has helped her expand her business, and "I've made so many friends through it that it's hard to separate the business friends from the personal friends at this point."
Harte, the marketer, says: "I'm a marketing nerd, so it's pretty much my life, but through Twitter I've met so many great marketers in India, Italy, England, throughout the world. But it's also been personally rewarding, and I've made a lot of close friends through Twitter." And jobs - her current job, and the one she had before it came to her through Twitter, she says.
Harte, 40, says friendships begin when tweeters talk business, then glance off into shared interests.
"It starts with a small conversation, like any two people getting acquainted. Like if you're both runners: 'So, where do you run when you're in Philly?' and you end up with a bunch of people tweeting about running. . . . You find microconnections that help solidify a bond."
Social-media consultant Danny Brown of Toronto describes Twitter as "business networking taken online." Unlike a real-world conference, where people might exchange business cards, "you can use Twitter Search to look for the people, topics, and conversations you're interested in."
Shamara, the DJ, took time out from tweeting and doing her show to use an old-school communication device, the telephone, to describe how she began using Twitter.
"A coworker told me, 'Hey, this is a great way to open yourself up to a larger audience.' You can get people to get involved with what's going on at the show, the station, comment on what I'm playing, make requests."
On Twitter, she also lays out her life for her followers - "Good times w old/new friends! Bobby Ralph Ellen & Laura! Now I don't remember the last time I was up all nite" - another use that's both business and personal.
"It doesn't bother me to be public," she says. "I'm already in the public eye here. I'm a single mom, and I want other single moms to take strength from that. My listeners can feel we're besties, instead of there being some distance between me and them."
That leveling power again. Harte says that "through Twitter, you can get through to a CEO who's into tweeting. They know the culture, they'll forgive the misspellings and grammar because they know the culture, and they'll answer your questions in that spirit."
Brown agrees: "CEOs and higher-ups who control millions of dollars, they're using the slang and shortcuts of the tweet. It definitely levels the playing field."
A shelter from zombies
Mia Gannon, advertising and promotions coordinator for the Art Museum (No. 10 on the list), says: "We've had to learn to loosen up on our tweets and speak the language of social media. We can't just post our calendar listings. We have to be more personable. And once we did, we really started building up our following."
One follower, she says, blogged that the museum was the safest place in town in case of a zombie invasion. She answered him playfully; it was retweeted, and more people became followers of the museum.
The social-media world, and its merger of public, private, work, play, business, and pleasure, comes through loud and clear when Shamara, between songs, says, "Anything else you want to hear? Pick up your phone and tweet me!"