Disregard the hype and the haters; Twitter is a powerful platform with plenty of practical uses.
Have you been following the crazy ink that Twitter has been getting? The microblogging service is all over the news right now, and I’m sure it’s all being orchestrated for the sole purpose of selling the company to Google or Facebook or, uh, someone else. Is Lenovo still buying stuff it doesn’t need?
While more than a few computer users are befuddled by all the fuss, I can assure you that Twitter is actually a valuable service as it currently exists. And because it is in the news, and because perhaps half or more than half of PCMag’s readers will say “I don’t get it” regarding Twitter, I thought I’d explain its usefulness. Or at least some of its usefulness.
The original aim of the product was to enable “microblogging”—users making inane personal comments about their minute-by-minute activities, as if anyone really wants to know you’re watching The Simpsons or eating a cheese sandwich. Some people would throw out opinions about everything. These short posts are confined to Twitter’s 140-character limit, which makes conciseness important.
This became the early model for usage, and it still has far too many of these sorts of posts (called “tweets” in Twitter parlance). On the Cranky Geeks show, Sebastian Rupley constantly mocks those types of users, questioning the value of tweets such as “I’m sitting” and “I’m standing.” Point taken. But that was the old Twitter, and we’ve seen the service evolve into many different usage scenarios. Here are nine great uses that I’ve observed.
Twitter Witness = Twitness
The Twitness involves a few hundred Twitterers watching something such as the Academy Awards show, and tweeting about the show with all sorts of funny remarks about the clothes or the idiocies of the event. It turns something solitary like TV watching into an interactive, shared experience.
Another usage model that has been much hyped lately is the spread of breaking news updates: When a major event happens, often a Twitterer will be there tweeting about it on the spot. These 140-character news reports get passed around faster than the cops can cordone off a crime scene. It’s fascinating to observe.
Like everyone else, I was at first skeptical about the service. A fellow techie told me that he used the service to contact multiple people who worked within his organization using the mobile service feature. If you have 20 people from your office who might be working in the field all day, you might want to broadcast a quick message to all of them. It’s incredibly easy to do with Twitter, and the service thus becomes a fancy replacement for text messaging instead of a minimalist blogging platform.
I personally use Twitter for two or three purposes. I mainly use it as an easy feedback mechanism for my writings and podcasts. Someone asks me a question on Twitter and I can answer it much easier than I can with e-mail. It’s almost instantaneous. So this sort of feedback is a fourth distinct use.
I also use it to poll people and for crowd-sourcing information. I can ask my Twitter followers a question that I cannot find the answer to, and within seconds someone will know the answer or have a link to it. A fifth use (though one that requires a lot of followers).
I can also poll or query my followers as in a reader poll or survey. I had the audience vote on some art recently for a podcast—which piece of art did they like the best? This is a version of crowd sourcing that is very valuable, and again, it happens almost instantly. A sixth use.
Public Address System
Because I produce a couple of streaming podcasts that have no official start times, I use Twitter to announce the fact that a streaming show is going to begin. It’s a bit like using Twitter as a public address system. This makes seven distinct uses so far.
Sales and Marketing
I am sure people can sell things over the system, which makes eight uses and counting. Lance Ulanoff, PCMag’s editor, uses Twitter to sell the publication’s columnists and hot stories.
On a recent visit to Portugal, I met up with a slew of my Twitter followers for a meetup, a chat about technology, dinner, and a day of photography in Lisbon. All because of Twitter! There’s use number nine.
My point is that because the Twitter mechanism is so simple and open, people have developed their own uses for it. We think of Twitter as a resource not unlike the bulletin boards that used to exist in small town stores, on which you’d post everything from a car for sale to a city hall announcement. In fact, perhaps Twitter transcends terms like “use,” and just exists.
So anyone who doesn’t “get” Twitter is probably on the right track, because there is nothing to get. You invent a use for yourself, if you can manage to think of something useful for it to do. I’ve outlined nine ideas, but you could easily come up with 20 more that fit your needs.
If you check it out you may as well follow my posts. I’m “theREALdvorak” on the site; don’t be fooled by imitators.