Twitter: Don’t leave home without it (A Primer)

Twitter SMS Cheatsheet

Unless you’ve been severely disconnected from the blogosphere, you would have heard of Twitter, the convergent messaging service that’s making rounds with bloggers everywhere, including Singapore. I’ll show you who you should get connected with in a while, but first…

Is Twitter really that popular?

  1. The Wall Street Journal covers Twitter in an article entitled “Friends Swap Twitters, and Frustration
  2. Ross Mayfield wrote about how Twitter has tipped the tuna. He shows an array of statistics on the network effect Twitter is experiencing, as well as the interesting uses people have come up with for the service.
  3. Andy Beard claimed that Technorati is now overburdened by feeds from services such as Cocomment and Twitter. It’s understandable… there’s way more traffic through these smaller interactions as compared to actual blogging.
  4. Mitch Joel said that Google News recently added Twitter as a news source. Pretty bizarre but apparently its to grab word-of-mouth news which proliferates really quick (e.g. on regional disasters).

While I’ve been doing my part in subverting the media socialists to try it, I thought I’d highlight some of the significant parts of it for everyone. For those of you who just want to get cracking, Rafe Needleman has already provided a great newbie guide to Twitter, which you should start off with.

On Media
Twitter isn’t really instant-messaging, nor is it really blogging. It seems to be in-between, and yet a lot more. Michael Gilbert calls it micro-blogging , which is more tuned to sharing your stream of consciousness (like tumblr). Linda Stone explains how “continuous partial attention” describes how we use our attention today, how it is different from multi-tasking and that the two are differentiated by the impulse that motivates them. Her essay could possibly explain why Twitter fits in the attention-niche so well.

On Mechanism
From what I’ve gathered, Twitter was designed more as a way to share your current status with your friends, so you can maintain social connectedness. It’s ironic, but I used to run a series of blog posts highlighting exactly that. My “current status“, which was named as that, went quite well with readers and also took the form of a short meme in the blogosphere. As an asynchronous platform, Twitter would allow friends to respond back to you if needed (e.g. decision polling). I see this more as a serendipitous mechanism, where if I happened to tweet that I was say, going to watch the movie “300”, you might be interested to join in and could by responding. I liken Twitter to firing a shot in the dark of known space.

On Uses
As seen in my student blogs about Twitter this week, while most of them considered Twitter an online community, many considered it a weak one since it is neither instant messaging nor blogging (i.e. SMS word count limit). Many think that it holds potential to be greater if Twitter were to “fix” some of the issues they’ve highlighted. The thing here is to understand what the developers really wanted to make out of this, and if users are using it as it was intended. As mentioned earlier, I can see how it has to be a ubiquitous platform to simply share user status. However, should developers rethink their strategy and lean towards their user wants (e.g. the Flickr story)? Perhaps Twitter should maintain a vision and see it through, giving users what they might want in the future, instead of just now.

As a first generation service, Twitter has shared APIs which many have tapped onto to further the system. I’ve seen a lot of interesting hacks for Twitter so far, and I’ve been saving them to my del.icio.us “twitter” tag. Some notable ones include twittersearch (search Twitter conversations), Twittervision (who’s twittering on a world map), The Several Habits of Wildly Successful Twitter Users, 5 Ways to Use Twitter for Good, Twitter WordPress Sidebar Widget, prom queen: Convert Twitter followers to friends, Twitter cell phone cheat sheets, Twitterbar: Tweet from your addressbar, AutoTwit: Update Twitter Automatically, and Twittering Your Home.

On People
In line with uses, are the users. While there are interesting personalities you might wish to follow on Twitter, there are friends you can add that aren’t really human, but services that run in Twitter. For a start, I’ve been collecting blog celebrities (like MrBrown and Popaghandi) and news services on my friends list. You can see it all by looking at my profile so feel free to be choose your “friends” from my selection. As Ross Mayfield has highlighted:

Most recently there has been a rise in fake identities and even celebrities. Partially because people want to form more than one group, sometimes as integration points with other communities. Some of the groups I’ve spotted include AdaptivePath, 1Password (release update), Barcamp, ArsTechnica, BBC (stories), Digg (stories), MarsEdit (release update), Technorati (a hack that begs people for blurbs in WTF), Techmeme (a hack that posts new top stories), Twitterific (release updates) and WordPress (release updates). Andy Carvin hypothesizes Twitter could save lives in a catastrophe, but group forming is already ahead of his theory with the USGS Earthquake Center on Twittter. (Kevin: Emergency Alert System… how cool!)

On Culture
In the core of the action, I’m witnessing new textual artifacts developing on Twitter which may spread elsewhere soon (e.g. blogs). Shorthands like “#C = drinking coffee” to “@username before a message” to publicize personal conversations. I wonder if Twitter exists as a thin, convergent, yet ubiquitous medium affording us reason to re-invent texting (SMS)? Or is this simply a re-iteration of the same innovations since the days of IRC?

On Future
Steve Rubel wondered if people would now spend less time on blogs and more time Twittering? He posed this question on Twitter and got a resounding “no”. Just where do people find time? Something has to give. Meanwhile, Matt Deegan talked about Twitter’s rising popularity and wonders if it’s really that hot property. Perhaps this might get hot enough that SMS will start being as serious a medium in America as it is in Asia.

On You
With key users using SMS to Twitter, I thought that it would be natural for Singaporeans to take it on (having the fastest SMS kid accounts for something). It’s too bad that twitter’s SMS gateways are in the States and UK, making it a pricey option for Singaporeans to use it via mobile phone. Now that you’ve covered pretty good ground on the nature of Twitter, do you think Twitter is really a trend or a fad?

  • http://www.dariosalvelli.com Dario Salvelli

    Great stuff. Also i use Twitter: http://twitter.com/darios. ;)

  • http://www.yohanneswijaya.com Yohannes Wijaya

    @Kevin, you might also be interested in these twitter-related online services: http://twitterholic.com/ and http://www.twitterbuzz.com/

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Thanks Yohannes, aka twitter: macnatic

  • http://www.radicalbehavior.com Josh Kenzer

    Nice write up. Thanks.

  • http://www.liewcf.com LiewCF

    I just started Twitting recently. My twitter plage: http://twitter.com/liewcf :)

  • http://manainkblog.typepad.com M-H

    Thanks Kevin. Now I have a better idea of what it is I think I’ll give it a miss. Very helpful.

  • http://www.clappingtrees.com ClappingTrees

    Thanks, Kevin, for the update on Google News, Twitter stats, culture and peope. Interesting especially to know that many Singaporean celebrity bloggers are already there.

    Perhaps you might be interested to read my posts on this topic too: Insight#5: Twitter, TwitterAmI & Twittervision and John Edwards: My Twitter Friend! (John Edwards is the Democrats’ presidential candidate in the USA).

  • http://andybeard.eu/ Andy Beard

    The biggest problem that I currently face with Twitter is whether I can use it for “signal” rather than “noise”

    I can’t find a way to add disclosure, and many people are using it to flog their commercial activities.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Andy: You’ve got a point… it’d be good to chart out the signal to noise ratio for Twitter and other online communication media. Would be be too convoluted to measure?

  • http://andybeard.eu/ Andy Beard

    The thing is, if it is signal, things which will benefit my business, most of it needs some kind of disclosure.
    Any reasonable disclosure would take up all 140 characters allowed.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Andy: It definitely isn’t designed for a lot of text input. The design intention was to keep it short, more as a lightning quick update than drawn out thoughts.

  • http://www.askowlbert.com Barbara Ling (aka Owlbert)

    Excellent writeup, thanks for sharing! I’ve just stumbled it.

    Enjoy,

    Barbara

    Barbara Ling (aka Owlbert)’s last blog post..RANT – What Twitter REALLY is missing Part 6 – XMPP