If you don’t understand the point of Twitter, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Like many Web 2.0-ish services, Twitter is a mystery to many. It’s easy to understand where the confusion stems from. First, Twitter is relatively new and not fully understood. Second, Twitter aims to answer one very simple question: What are you doing right now? Not everyone sees the immediate value in the answer to that question. On its face, it may even seem a little ridiculous—if not a big waste of time and bandwidth.
What in the World is Twitter Anyway?
According to Crunchbase, “Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams and launched in July 2006, is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to post their latest updates. An update is limited by 140 characters and can be posted through three methods: web form, text message, or instant message.”
O’Reilly Media’s Sarah Millstein (author of Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution) describes Twitter in a slifghtly different way: “Twitter is a device-agnostic real-time message-routing platform—which is a fancy way of saying that it can send messages to and receive them from a variety of devices simultaneously, at the moment a message is sent.”
Although formal membership numbers are hard to come by, there are plenty of folks who have set up a Twitter account. Depending on who you ask, Twitter has a lot of members (recent estimate: 2 million). But no matter who is doing the measuring, Twitter is making a big name for itself in relatively little time. The popular Twitter website boasts a heavy flow of traffic, recently reported by Hitwise (an internet traffic monitoring firm) to have more visitors than the popular social bookmarking site, Digg.
And, because Twitter developers provide an Application Programming Interface (API) that allows other services to connect to—and interact with—Twitter data, there are currently hundreds of Twitter tools that rely on the constant flow of user-generated content made available from Twitter users around the globe.
Learn more: Watch this video that explains how Twitter works
Some Folks Don’t Have Time For Twittering
Even those who do see the value in Twitter don’t always have the bandwidth to tackle yet another continuous information stream. Information overload is likely the primary obstacle to participation.
“I started using Twitter and then decided it was just too much trouble and I really don’t want that much information coming at me all day long,” said Lisa Seaburg, owner of Aeon (an XML content consulting firm). “So,” Seaburg said, “I deleted my account.”
That’s the way I thought about Twitter, at first. “Neat, I thought. But, not very useful.” Boy, was I wrong. As it turns out, Twitter can be used in so many ways, it’s difficult to think through all the possibilities.
Why People Use Twitter
The reasons users say they use Twitter vary, from personal to professional. Recently, I asked members of The Content Wrangler Community and The Content Wrangler Community on Linkedin to share with us what they think of and how they use Twitter.
“I use it to inform, get news and plug links I find,” says copywriter and web analyst Monica Valentinelli. “In my opinion, I think that there are a few too many people expressing ‘the right way’ to use Twitter. The whole point is that it is random. It also integrates with your Facebook status, which is very helpful to keep that network base in-the-know.”
“Many people use Twitter for communicating with friends and family. I use Twitter for networking and personal branding,” said SEO Strategist Pamela Abbazia. “Most of my tweets are business-oriented. I also find that Twitter is a great tool for companies to use in their marketing and PR efforts.”
“I use twitter for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, I use it as persistant messaging between myself and my distributed development team when I need to interact with them between live/virtual meetings. I prefer it over email and IM for short discussions and quick thoughts,” said Robert Bectel, Managing Partner at Quorum Sense, a creator of vertical and professional online networks.
“Additionally, I use Twitter to follow the findings of a select few innovative people/groups that provide links to interesting solutions as well as articles and traditional blogs. By following smart folks, I have access to an intelligent filter for marketing and interactive content,” said Bectel.
“Finally, I use it to communicate with my wife. Our tweets move quickly to email and mobile devices which we both have, and guarantee that we aren’t missing important messages such as ‘Honey, get the kids from school. My meeting is running long’.”
“I use Twitter to give notice of published articles, find ideas and tips, and to see what others in my business are doing,” said Lee Underwood, Site Manager at Jupitermedia. “It’s also good for finding authors for the websites that I manage. The important thing is to not subscribe to “everybody.” If you ‘follow’ those who are really interested in, it can be quite useful.”
“I first learned of Twitter as a possible tool from others in the beer/beverages industry,” said managing partner of 99 Bottles, Tiffany (Hereth) Adamowski. “That is, I was at the Washington Winter Beer Festival, enjoying beer and handing out 99 Bottles promo keychain-bottle openers when I met Rob Trent of Canada’s Suds Beer Magazine. He was posting to Twitter from his cell phone. I thought that was pretty cool, so the day after, I created a Twitter account for our store.”
“I currently use Twitter to promote the store,” said Adamowski, “specifically to post upcoming tasting events (and a reminder on the day of the event), just-arrived beers, to promote new content on our store blog, and notify folks of any special hours or weather closures. Check it out at: http://twitter.com/99bottlesbeer.”
“I also use Twitter’s ‘follow’ feature as a social networking tool. Afterall, the more people you ‘know’, the more people that are likely to discover and patronize your business,” said Adamowski. “It’s like the old Breck shampoo commercial of the 70s…tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on…”
To drive folks to the Twitter profile, Adamowski periodically mentions it in the 99 Bottles newsletter (which gets about 600 reads each week) and on the store’s MySpace page.
“I keep two Twitter accounts: one for tweeting small business news links (which is as much about me sharing the news as it is about me bookmarking them) and one for keeping abreast of friend news in a fast and simple way,” said Tammi Coles, account manager at translation and localization provider milengo. “My partner just joined and he is using it to expand his Bundesliga blog.”
Of course, these are just a few of the many ways people use Twitter as a standalone application. Twitter can also be connected via its API to all types of other useful services. In a future edition of The Content Wrangler, we’ll explore a few of the more interesting and useful applications.
Until then, how do you use Twitter?