Twitter is intensely polarizing. It’s undeniable.
If people “get” it, they LOVE it. And if they don’t, they HATE it.
Note that while I define the latter as those who “don’t” get it, I mean that this group is primarily made up of people who *think* they get it and in reality, they grossly misunderstand it. As well as the people who vehemently swear it off before they have ever even given it a chance.
There has been a recent barrage of postings and musings across the blogosphere about why and how to use Twitter. I’ve been meaning to write my opinion up for awhile now, but I had to finish properly mulling it over:
Twitter allows you to create (yet another) social network of your friends. Just like Facebook or AIM, you’ve essentially got a list of people who you follow on the service. The main difference is that sometimes you know them in real life, but more oftentimes than not, you don’t. You might follow their blog or have read their book or just randomly added them for their sheer skill of being downright funny and witty in 140 characters or less.
Keeping in Touch.
If you add people to your list, their updates are always going to show up in your feed, which is a relatively unobtrusive way to stay in touch with a large number of people. I don’t always have the time or attention span for keeping up with the sheer volume, so I have Twitter fed into my Google Reader, where I can easily and quickly browse it at another time. However, you can follow the people in which you’re most interested by SMS, meaning that you’ll get their updates delivered to your phone via text message
Minutia Can Be Meaningful.
Though I currently follow about 200 people, I only have a core group of 5-10 people for whom I receive updates directly to my phone. Personally, this has become a treasured way to keep in touch with some of my close friends who live in Austin. Sure, I always “keep in touch” with my friends, no matter where in the world they are, but it’s mainly the periodical, requisite check-in about major life events. I don’t know what goes on in their daily life, and they don’t know what goes on in mine. Twitter enables me to have a direct connection to the details that so often get overlooked or obscured by sheer physical distance. I truly enjoy reading about where my friends are and what they are doing at any given moment in time. And knowing this information opens up the gateway for more frequent and meaningful communication. Instead of: “Sooooooo. How’s life, eh?” It’s more like: “Hey @johnerik! Saw you were checking out possible properties for Conjunctured. Which location did you end up going with?”
In my ever-so-humble opinion, this is by far one of the coolest by-products of using Twitter. When I send a public message out that is aimed at (@) a friend (i.e. @jasonclement), it can be read by anybody who is following me. On the last night of my recent vacation in Austin, I was walking downtown with @johnerik and @jon100, and when some of their friends Twittered about their whereabouts, we went to go meet up with them. As Twitter becomes more and more mainstream, I can see this effect compounding in cool ways.
Even if you’re equipped with an internet enabled phone, sometimes you’re out and about and you just want a quick answer about something specific. Or, maybe you have a random question and you’re looking for feedback. On his recent vacation, @fredwilson, who the author of the popular blog A VC, asked the Twittersphere whether they could recommend a good restaurant in Honolulu. Within minutes, he had multiple replies. Similarly, when @cesart went to my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Austin, Veggie Heaven, he sent out a general message asking what he should get on the menu. Within about one minute, he had replies from both me and @johnerik. He later raved about our recommendation.
Facebook is great, because it acts like a self-updating and thus always current version of the antiquated Rolodex. But if you’re somewhat concerned about privacy, as I am, then you probably don’t have your phone number listed. Thus, if I want to call or text you, I must first send you a message and then wait for you to respond. Twitter creates a way for people to communicate through text messages without actually revealing any personal contact information like phone numbers. On Twitter, even if a person isn’t following your updates by SMS, they are most likely tracking themselves. This means that anytime their screen name is mentioned anywhere in the Twitterverse, it gets delivered directly to their phone. Which leads to…
Well-known bloggers, famous people, authors, shoe stores, and even airlines are suddenly accessible to you! It doesn’t matter whether you’re the consumer, the client, the reader, the fan, or nobody at all. When I was on my way to Austin, I Twittered at @JetBlue, who promptly responded by wishing me a happy, safe flight and offering up some restaurant recommendations. Then, we expressed mutual appreciation of the Stuffed Avocado dish at Trudy’s. Similarly, After I finished reading many articles by Michael Lopp and then his book, Managing Humans, I immediately checked to see if he was also @rands on Twitter. Sure enough, he was! I sent him an @reply where I totally raved about his writings. Shortly thereafter, he followed me, and we exchanged a few direct messages. I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee next time he was in NYC, and he said he would definitely take me up on that offer. Boom. Instantaneous rapport with an author who has highly influenced and inspired me. What other medium allows for that?
Forced Short-Form Communication.
Being that I am generally long-winded when I write, I have a love-hate relationship with the hard limit of 140 characters. The fact of the matter is that there is a lot of information to keep up with, we are all very, very busy people, and only getting busier. I adore getting long emails, but these days, it would seem that I’m in the minority on that one. While observing the email-answering process of John Erik Metcalf, I noticed that when opening an email, the initial outward physical reaction was vastly different depending on whether the email was short (manageable) or long (more time+effort than currently available). In this sense, Twitter is king. 140 characters or less, no exceptions. It forces you to be incredibly succinct. Likewise, even if there is deep thought buried in those 140 characters, knowing that there are only 140 characters available for your response, somehow the action/effort required is just not as daunting.
Pulse of the World.
Being that I am intensely interested and involved with China, I follow a lot of people who live there. Twitter is an amazing way to get an unfiltered perspective on what’s going on elsewhere in the world. Being that our time-zones are exactly opposite, the Twitters from China are starting to roll in as I’m getting ready to go to bed. Since I can’t keep up with them in real-time (that is, until I figure out how to feed an RSS into my brain during sleep), I read them in the morning in Google Reader. For instance, with regards to the recent situation in Tibet, I found that the Twitterverse concurred with intuition, in that the United States media was blowing things way out of proportion. The Twitter verdict? They’re tired of listening to the East and the West bicker. Their advice? Cut it out.
Speaking of speaking with the other side of the world, have you ever sent an international text message? If so, you’ll know that they can cost anywhere from US$0.25 to US$1.00. That’s a lot of money for a measly 140 characters. Furthermore, if you’re like me and have spent a LOT of time trying to send and receive international text messages, you’ll know that they are almost entirely unreliable. When my Swiss friend Fabian Pfortmueller and Flavio Rump of Sandbox Network came to visit NYC, our text messages weren’t coming through. So, we followed each other on Twitter, and thus were able to begin using the direct messaging function for making plans. Best of all? It was free. Twitter is to text-messaging as Skype is to international calling.
With services like Summize, advertisers and marketers have a responsibility to keep tabs on what’s being said about their client. Similar to setting up Google Alerts, there is simply *no* excuse not to monitor what people are saying about your brand in the Twittersphere. Mashable goes as far to say that if you’re not monitoring Twitter, you’re not doing your job. Renny Gleeson of W+K talks about the innovative way Zappos is using Twitter.
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All in all, it should be plainly obvious that I love Twitter. It has rapidly become an integral part of my daily life. Earlier today, I self-imposed a temporary Twitter time-out, but obviously that didn’t last.
For a different (but not necessarily dissenting) viewpoint on Twitter, check out Matt Maroon’s post on Twitter.
There have been a ton of third-party applications created to mine, store, and otherwise capitalize on the enormous amount of ripe data that is the Twitterverse. There is a fairly comprehensive list over at Lo-Fi Librarian.
With regards to applications for Twitter, I personally have some a couple of innovative ideas in the pipelines. Stay tuned.