What Twitter is good for
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
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.