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March 15, 2007

What Twitter is good for

Twitter By Charlene Li

Twitter has been hailed as "a total waste of time" to "the next generation IM". The site allows users to easily and frequently update what they are doing, through a Web browser, IM, or text message. It's been quite the buzz among early adopters -- Hitwise has some data on Twitter's growth. Robert Scoble calls it "blogging mated with IM" and is a frequent user. I've set up an account too, but I find it darn hard to remember to Twitter (I've set it up to nudge me every 24 hours, but I usually ignore it, my bad). And Mat Balez has a great post on why he thinks Twitter will be dead before the end of the year.

Here's our take: Twitter is going to be overused, overload people, who will then get turned off. There is just simply too much noise and not enough valuable "signal" to be worthwhile. I run into a case of TMI - too much information -- in that I don't really need to know that you're heading to the bathroom, etc.

Yet, I think there is real potential for a service like Twitter in several areas: 1) for small, trusted groups to keep up to date with each other; 2) publishing information easily; and 3) as an aggregator of information. Here are some more details:

1) Keeping in touch with people that matter. This is a service that my mother would love -- she always wants to know what I'm doing. The same thing applies to the workplace where team members can provide regular updates on their activities. This would be especially helpful on a project where fast communication can be a real advantage. For example, Disney has used blogs to track engineering activities - what if they could use a Twitter interface to do quick updates? There are several other enterprise ideas (collected by Kim Bayne) including a feedback channel for customer service, marketing ticker for press, and monitoring of system status. Crucial to this is the ability to segment your Twitter life into different areas -- my co-workers don't really need to know what I did over the weekend with my kids, and vice versa. Permissions make this a hairy nut to crack, but I think it's essential to make the Twitter pages more relevant to each of my social circles.
2) Easy publication. Up to now, user-generated content took a lot of work. But with Twitter, the idea is to make it so easy that you do it all the time -- you only have 140 characters in which to do this. But this is still hard, so some of the more promising innovations include TwiTunes that adds the current track you're listening to in iTunes to Twitter. My favorite is autotwit, which allows you to schedule future posts. But I can see a time when I could simply have Twitter updated from my Outlook Calendar. Permission controls again, will be essential.
3) Information aggregation and mashups. I can get Twitter Weather, as well as Tube Twitter which gives updates for specific London Underground lines. There are also mashups like Twittermaps.com, which uses specific tagging in Twitter to map your locations -- you write a post "L:94404" or any other geocodable location and you show up on a map. Cool, but not that useful. Even more interesting is Dealtagger.com, which allows any deals that you tag on the service to also show up on Twitter.

Intrigued? I certainly am. I still take the current Twitter-mania with a huge grain of salt, mostly because in its current state Twitter is going appeal only to a small subset of people who enjoy publicly sharing what they are doing. But watch out -- I think that like IM, blogging, and social networking, services like Twitter will evolve with new features and functionality to actually become useful communication and information tools.

Want more examples? Check out the Twitter Wiki for the latest. And please, let us know how you see a service like Twitter evolving.

Tags: Groundswell, Forrester, twitter

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Comments

Chris Brogan...

The thing I think people miss when observing twitter relates to our typical method of observation. In small segmented pieces, Twitter can be silly. Its value comes when you add enough friends with just barely enough relevance (the more tangential but still connected the better) and then start using Twitter as a larger gestalt data stream.

It's not the bits; it's the bytes. Seeing what Twitter brings me for human interaction is nice, but watching Twitter deliver information, take action, or generally move in a direction requires one to scrunch up your eyes and look at it differently.

Add about 200 more vaguely relevant people and see what you think.

Rob Beckett

Quote: "I run into a case of TMI - too much information -- in that I don't really need to know that you're heading to the bathroom, etc."

I don't have a problem with that aspect, but I do have some friends who twitter 50+ times a day (and I don't need to know it immediately), or constantly address a single user on their public log (with two words responses). However: This is why you can turn off updates from individual people. :)

I know some people who are working on a few twitter-related projects that may help too...

Adam Broitman

Brogan does not lie! I was uncertain at first but, I have found that I get a more immediate connection with people I otherwise would not be connecting with (on a regular basis). Sure, it is not important for me to know what Brogan had for breakfast but, the ability for me to follow people I respect throughout the day and get pieces of their life is profound. I am a little addicted but it is a controlled addiction and one that adds value to my life. Like Brogan says, I don't think you can "get it" until you expand your network with like minded individuals. My last thought is that, I don't want to seem as though I am proselytizing. The less twitter you folks twitter, the more twitter there is for me :)...and I need me a lot of twitter

Josh Bernoff

Charlene, I'm glad we talked about this post first -- I think you hit the nail on the head. There is a middle grounds somewhere between "Twitter is great" and "Twitter is annoying" and that middle ground is around specific, useful applications.

I'm a writer. That means blogging is right for me -- if I want you to know something, I'll post about it. The rest of the time I'm not so sure. I know twitter isn't for me, but that doesn't mean it isn't for you . . .

/josh

Dan Dickinson

How will it evolve? Tough to say; I think the applications you mention will be useful, but not useful enough to sustain it once the hype wears off.

Personally, I think it's a class thing. The tech elite were early to blogs and formed a happy little blogging club, but now every teenager, CEO and expectant mother in the developed world has one, so the geeks built a new clubhouse.

Gary C,

It's interesting to note that UPOC.com has been around for years. If Twitter continues to take off, they may end up being the "myspace" in this area, while UPOC.com will end up being the "friendster" of group txt messaging.

Paul Sweeney

see www.swarm-it.com for another take on this type of interaction. It won't be long before its mashed with a presence application such as Talk-Now from iotum. Most commentators seem to see the value in these things being deployed from IM.

Chris Webb

I'm thinking about ways in which Twitter could be used for content delivery and as another tool for connecting to our customers.

Steve Jay

Great post Charlene, excellent detail. Personally I can really see Twitter working for specialist groups or events but the effort involved by individuals to keep upto date just seems disruptive and productivity destroying !

http://www.thedigitalmarketingblog.co.uk

Gavin Heaton

I don't think person-to-person take-up is going to be the main game for Twitter. The potential marketing opportunities that this could unleash for very targeted conversations is yet to be realised.

Wait until a big brand steps up to the plate.

Keith Fletcher

It is interesting to see the many uses for twitter. I have found a site www.celebritytwitter.com that follows the life of hollywood celebrities online. Is this a sign that twitter is going mainstream? I have also noticed that you can't hardly register anything with twitter in the name. I give it 2 months before it gets bought by yahoo or google.

tish grier

Tried Twitter for a day--just got very bored, as it reminded me of the very early days of LiveJournal, when girls would post sometimes hourly on their thought processes....

If you've got friends who are interested in knowing all your thought processes--if you're *that* popular--or you're the kind of person who hovers over the kids, Twitter's great!

The rest of us--well, I just keep my IM on all the time...

as for marketers (or journalists) entering Twitter conversations, can we say "Twitter spam"?

Teodora Hristova

Hi,

I think many of you are right. Twitter is easy to use but it will be overused and soon forgotten even by its most loyal supports. But hey :) we are used to seeing thousands of new online products to be taken off the market now, aren't we?

vaspers the grate

Twitter is a new form of social networking and private channeling, a micro or nano blogging that enforces pithy thought spurts.

Forget that "What are you doing?" header at the top of your Tweet template. Ignore it.

Instead, use Twitter as secret channel with special sauce, a deconstructed email/publishing channel, a lighting archive, treasury of mind bolts.

Signal to noise. I Twitter to an inner circle of hardcore bloggers and web revolutionists. They care nothing about how I feel or what I'm doing at any random moment.

But they do care about what cool links I'm recommending, what free legal music mp3s I'm fond of, what insight I just glimpsed.

Rich content tweets are possible.

Just put your blog postings on a severe ascetic diet. Voila! A Twitter message.

Be sure to include a link. Long URLs get shortened via TinyURL, a brilliant feature.

Chris Grayson

I have definitely not drank the Kool-Aid on this one. Just blogged the topic, as well.

http://gigantico.squarespace.com/336554365346/2007/7/12/social-media-overload.html

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