This is a post about Twitter. If you’ve never used or heard about Twitter, the Wikipedia page for Twitter will give you a brief introduction. Come back when you’ve read it.
I love Twitter. Twitter has introduced me to some great people and really demonstrates the value in weak connections. Strong connections inevitably create an echo chamber – if you are talking to the same people sharing the same interests and opinions, deja vu becomes familiar I remember reading a Japanese quote once, went along the lines: “If more than two people are in agreement, at least one is not required.” Kind of makes sense. (I’ve got a feeling it was as harsh as: If two people are in agreement…) Weak ties broaden your horizons and connect you to a whole new group of people. Diversity thrives on weak connections. And diversity is great for challenging assumptions and generating new ideas.
People often ask if Twitter is just a simplified version of Instant Messaging. Nope. With Instant Messaging (IM), you have a list of contacts you can chat to. But to chat means to specifically start a conversation, to interrupt. With Twitter, you can talk at will, regardless of whether or not anyone is listening (simple tip: Tweet rubbish and nobody will). If people don’t want to be interrupted, they simply ignore Tweetsville. They don’t have to set their status to Busy or pretend to be Offline to avoid a conversation. To Tweet or not (and to follow or not) is entirely optional, for all sides of the conversation.
Instant Messaging (IM) is about strongly-connected networks. You start a conversation with someone who is on your contacts list or if you know their IM address. You can’t see other conversations unless you are specifically invited into them. There is no serendipity in IM. Twitter is about loosely-coupled networks. You can view every Tweet from every person with an open account (you can have a hidden one if you want). By default, you get see Tweets from people you choose to follow. It’s up to you if you want to respond. And up to others if they want to reply.
Whilst some users stick to the ‘What are you doing’ theme (and offer ‘too much information’ about their dietary habits – you know who you are, Marmite sandwich lamb), it can offer so much more – great for sharing links, one-liners, ad-hoc conversations and making announcements. And Twitter has one IM feature that is brilliant – the ability to send a direct message (but only to someone who is following you). Direct messages are also sent out as emails and text messages to mobile phones. Fantastic if you don’t have the mobile phone number and want to get in touch.
Not convinced? Here are some examples:
- I spotted Guy Kawasaki‘s tweet and was able to review a draft copy of his upcoming book, sent comments via email and he gave me some start-up advice in return. Happy days.
- Comcast spotted Mike Arrington‘s rants about his broken Internet connection and got in touch to sort it out. His rants turned into praise of equal volume. (He has 20,000 followers on Twitter. Most churches would dream of such participation.)
- I muttered and moaned about Zoho in a Tweet. They responded on Twitter and Email within the hour.
- Steve Clayton was asked a question he didn’t know the answer to (amazing, but true), a tweet for help and the answers flocked in
- I saw Euan Semple tweeting to some chap called Sleepydog. I met said Sleepydog, aka Toby Moore, at a conference last week. We even Tweeted where we were sitting to organise a meet-up.
- Loic Le Meur announced an early bird special for his LeWeb conference in December on Twitter… and then tweeted with updates about how many tickets were left. Would they have sold so quickly without Twitter?
- I saw Euan Semple tweeting to some chap called Stephen Dale. Started following him. He saw me tweeting with Rob Gray whom he had also met. Rob introduced me to Stephen in London two weeks ago.
- When a blogger was arrested in Egypt, he managed to send a quick SOS on Twitter (no time for anything else) and people who saw it helped get him released. His interpreter has not been so lucky
- I hear about important news first on Twitter. Stuff that matters inevitably gets talked about by someone in the network. Even the BBC seems to Tweet about news before it appears on their 24-hour TV channel
By the way, all the above links lead to Twitter pages. If you’ve never visited Tweetsville before, you’ll need to create an account and login to view what they say. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Waste 5 minutes of time.
Just about any business could gain benefits from using Twitter. It taps into what seems to be an innate animal trait – the desire to communicate, instantly. To synchronise. (I had never looked at it this way until Ken Thompson’s brilliant session at the NLabs Social Networks conference). Anything that connects with our genetic make-up has value. And, alas, the potential to be exploited. Although that has yet to happen on Twitter (service is to damn unreliable!)
The challenge for Twitter is that I would never pay for the service. It’s a feature, not a platform. A lot of people have asked how can Twitter monetise it’s product. Getting users to pay for it is never going to be an option. (More so, whilst the service is still unreliable and prone to unexpected downtime.) Twitter is a messaging tool. People are no longer used to paying for messaging tools, whether it’s IM or email. The current forms of online advertising work in information-seeking environments, not human-seeking ones like communication tools and social networking sites. But Twitter has some serious value tied up in its rather clever feature. Analytics could discover patterns between conversations, links and networks…
Next stop: FriendFeed. And it’s a platform, not a feature…
- Journalist saved by Twitter aims to start a Twitter-driven emergency network
- Small pieces loosely joined, by David Weinberger (book web site – buy it, read it!)