Microblogging: Who Needs It?

The Twitter revolution must be official now that Time, BusinessWeek and The New York Times have all covered it. Twitter is a platform for what some are calling “microblogging” – a combination of blogging and instant messaging that has no real point that I can see other than to let people follow you around virtually all day as you keep a running diary of your activities – in 140 or fewer characters. From the NYT:

For anyone unfamiliar with the latest trends in technology, “Twitterers” send and receive short messages, called “tweets,” on Twitter’s Web site, with instant messaging software, or with mobile phones. Unlike most text messages, tweets — usually in answer to Twitter’s prompt, “What are you doing?” — are routed among networks of friends. Strangers, called “followers,” can also choose to receive the tweets of people they find interesting. …

Most twitterers communicate with small networks of people they know, but the most popular have thousands of friends and followers. One of the best-loved twitterers, Paul Terry Walhaus, a gray-haired blogger from Austin, Tex., has 9,177 friends and 1,851 followers, according to the tracking site Twitterholic.

Perhaps I’m just envious of someone who has 9,177 friends (think of the parties!), but this is not for me.  

The general banality of the posts has turned off a lot of folks. Other tweets have had the opposite effect, landing their authors in virtual hot water as a stream-of-consciousness tidbit is picked up and circulated throughout the Web. Unlike traditional IM, Twitter posts don’t disappear after a chat session ends, so something you say in passing is bound to outrage someone, somewhere. The above link (a tweet by Steve Rubel from PR firm Edelman) caught the eye of PC Magazine Editor in Chief Jim Louderback, who responded to Rubel’s comment that he tosses PC Mag in the trash by threatening to cancel Rubel’s comp subscription and boycott Edelman’s tech clients (of which there are many). Rubel subsequently apologized in an effort to save face (and stave off the boycott), and presumably they will both co-exist happily ever after.

There may be legitimate uses for Twitter; I just can’t think of any. BusinessWeek speculates on a few:

In different contexts, say among friends or colleagues, knowing that someone is sick or at lunch explains why they aren’t returning your call or why they’re so cranky, argues Ross Mayfield, chief executive of corporate wiki outfit Socialtext Inc.

For that to happen, the information–or time required to enter it–can’t be overwhelming. And Twitter must refine its filters. Right now it’s possible to direct updates to one person, but imagine if you could selectively reach certain groups of colleagues and filter recipients according to subjects, like restaurants. Already, Twitter tools are popping up, such as maps that show where people are twittering and a Twitter search engine.

Anyway, Twitter founder Evan Williams is obviously a smart guy who has a track record of success with startups (former CEO of Odeo, co-founder of Blogger parent Pyra Labs, since sold to Google). So he’s probably onto something with Twitter, but I’m not yet convinced. Of course, in the late ’90s I thought instant messaging was a huge waste of time, and that seems to have done all right.  

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3 thoughts on “Microblogging: Who Needs It?”

  1. 100.000 users worldwide is not THAT many. I don’t think it’s a revolution yet. Of course, it’s a hell of a growth but I remain cautious.

  2. It was something nice for everyone to get worked up about for a little while. Personally, I don’t crave providing ubiquitous access to everyone. Both my personal and private task masters are way too interested in managing the utter minutae of my movements. The next step from twitter would be wearing one of those day glo collars with the gps tracking device.

    I can hear it now “you said you were only stopping for one martini, but my data feed shows you were there for a full hour.”

    No thanks…I pass on this fad.

  3. Meanwhile microblogs are gaining much attention.

    Microblogs are the fastest instant global media, faster than radio and television, and with more global audience than telephone and sms.

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