Friday, November 07, 2008

Twitter Hits Its Tipping Point

Last year I signed up for a Twitter account as part of a Web 2.0 exploration experiment. I also signed up for Facebook, Corkd, and Viddler around the same time but drew the line at Pownce and did not sign up for a MySpace account. Of these services I would say that Twitter has become my 2nd most used social networking site next to Facebook. This past week, two of my Facebook friends rhetorically asked "What's Twitter?" and "How is this easier than updating my status on Facebook?"

Valid questions, and I can see why amidst the sea of silly-sounding sites people would be skeptical about joining yet another social networking service. It's almost comical when you log into these sites and see an eerily similar description: "'X' is a social networking site that helps you stay connected with your friends!" "Um, I thought they called that e-mail" you, might say.

Well, yes and no. To those who say "I don't have time to be on social networking sites" I propose that you don't have time *not* to be on social networking sites. The simple reason being that person-to-person e-mail exchanges are time consuming and should be reserved for occasions when privacy is needed. The better social networking sites enable effective and enjoyable asynchronous multi-person communication in ways that e-mail cannot. The majority of the interactions that define the relationships with people we know and care about are the mundane details that make up our days: The fever your child has. The thing you just did at work. The minor automobile accident you just got in. The product you're considering buying and the advice you're open to receiving about it. These are the details that keep people informed about what's going on in our lives that would *never* individually qualify as a reason for sending an e-mail. This is what social networking does really well.

What separates Twitter from Facebook? Well, Twitter (primarily) only replicates the "Status Update" portion of Facebook:

Here is what the input box on Twitter looks like:

So why play around with Twitter when you just as easily could update your status on Facebook? Well, first off, you can link your Facebook status so that your Twitter status updates your Facebook status automatically. To do this, search for "twitter" in the Facebook search box and install the Twitter Facebook Application. This is useful in two ways: First, you may not want to keep track of more than one status setting application. Second, it allows you to reveal details on Facebook separately from Twitter if you so choose. You see, Twitter updates your Facebook status, but Facebook does not update your Twitter status. This can be useful in situations where you would like to share a different status with trusted friends on Facebook but *not* share that same status on Twitter. For example, if you're out of town. Twitter is, by default, readable and searchable by the world. If you value privacy above all else, Twitter may not be for you. While it is easy to restrict who can read your what you're saying on Twitter, it kind of defeats the purpose. You see, keeping your Twitter status open to the public enables some interesting capabilities. Read on.

About a month ago, I sarcastically tweeted (that is to say, "I set my Twitter status update to...") "Hey Comcast! Our Internet connection has been flaky all week. Please repair- thanks in advance. " Wouldn't you know, 9 minutes later I received a message back from a user named "comcastcares" saying "@casperkill Can I look into that for you? There was a routing issue this morning that is now fixed" How did they do that? Well, if you go to you can search for what anyone might be tweeting. These searches can also be captured as an RSS feed, which basically means that without any work reloading web pages on their part, Comcast can monitor what the Internet is saying about them and diffuse hostile though-leader-type customers from spreading negative feedback about them. More importantly responses to the would-be hostile customer can be followed by anyone so not only is the hostile customer resopnded to, but the company publicly displays that they are listening and would like to help. If I'm looking in on this conversation I'm thinking to myself, "Boy, Comcast is on the ball. Well done!" If you care about your company and you're not monitoring what people are saying about your company on Twitter, take it upon yourself to get out there and at least monitor the conversation. You don't even need a Twitter account to do this.

But back to the tipping point... In the just-completed 2008 Presidential election, National Public Radio utilized Twitter to collect data on voter irregularity. You can read more about it here. NPR decided it would be more effective to have individuals from all over the country reporting their status than it would be to have their reporters try to capture stories by randomly running around. If there was a hot spot of suspicious activity, not only could NPR reporters have a closer look, but anyone who followed the discussion with the keyword "votereport" could as well. It is this kind of interconnected information sharing that makes so-called Web 2.0 technology great.

You can also have your Twitter status automatically update your blog. This is how we keep our status up to date on CasaDwyer. This is useful for your friends and family that don't want to sign up for Facebook or Twitter but have a look at your family blog every once in a while:

After a while, you'll find that more and more of your friends are on Twitter, and it's fun to follow what they're up to. You'll also find it an interesting way to keep tabs on people you know of, but aren't necessarily your friends. Guys like "garyvee" (Gary Vaynerchuk from Wine Library TV) or even Barack Obama. You'd be surprised who has a Twitter account!

So sign up for an account and follow me on Twitter. I think you'll be glad you did.

Question of the Day: What do you think of social networking sites? Waste of time? Or the best thing you've discovered in 2008?
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