Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Is Twitter?


I'm assuming you actually already know what Twitter is.

But how do people use it and what need is it filling?


Blogging
Ostensibly, Twitter is a "micro blogging" platform.
It has many advantages over other blogging solutions:
Highly available - Twitter allows updating via web, SMS, and now custom clients.
Open - Twitter has established a simple open API that allows programmers to extend the service and create new tools.
Low barrier to entry - Creating a twitter account takes seconds and requires no extra software.
Simple - Adding someone to your social network takes one click.

And speaking of Social Networking...


Social Networking
In the micro-blogging sense, Twitter really overlaps the mind-space of Facebook for keeping in contact and maintaining a social network.

And it allows a metric of popularity: "How many Followers do you have?"

In the PR world, we really try to use Twitter as a blogging platform, and as a tool to reach people discussing topics or products we represent.


Messaging
But a large chunk of the "tweets" I see look more like Instant Messages than blog posts. In the work setting, Twitter is really used as an IM platform.

When working on open-source projects I often collaborate over IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The Twitter experience is a lot like IRC chat rooms but simplified.
Sure, we nerds have our irc-bots, server proxies, and cool chat clients, but Twitter allows non-technical users to have access to similar tools without knowing how to program or even how to use IRC.

A number of teams I work with use IM platforms such as AIM, Skype, Jabber or MS Messenger. All of these also support group chats, but don't have the robust tools surrounding them that IRC has.

If you look at who's using Twitter, it appears to skew towards an older demographic. I believe this is because the younger, more tech-savvy crowd already has tools (IM and Chat clients) that meet their needs, but the older users are attracted to the simplicity and ubiquity of the Twitter platform.


What's Next?
Twitter has survived its technical growing pains.
It seemed like the service was unavailable for much of 2008.
As a micro-blogging platform, it's hard to beat.

As a messaging system it has some serious deficiencies. So far, the simplicity-of-use has outweighed those deficiencies, but I suspect that won't last for long.

As people find themselves using Twitter as a messaging platform more and more, they will find a need for group and channel management tools. Already, a number of twitter clients(Tweetdeck, Twhirl) feature the creation of categories and groups.

Either Twitter will find a way to incorporate such features or another startup will come along and create these tools. Possibly on a whole new platform.

I suspect that the popularity of all this internet-based messaging, combined with the rising popularity of internet-enabled smart phones will finally make dent in the SMS insanity.

I know since I put a Twitter client on my phone, my SMS use has dropped by over 90%.


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