Why I’ve been a bit of a twit(terer) recently

One of the reasons I’ve been quieter than usual here (apart from organising, and then getting over, the barcamp) is my reappraisal of Twitter.

Twitter, for the initiated, is a micro-blogging tool that allows you to send short messages, about the length of an SMS. These messages are almost immediately received by others who subscribe to your updates. You, in turn, can follow others’ updates an instantly connected community.

So what’s so good about that? After all, on first glance it just looks like the status update tool in Facebook. When it first launched a year or so ago it didn’t seem to have much to it.

When Facebook added status updates to user profiles and the ability to update via mobile, it seemed to me like Twitter was becoming just a little bit superfluous.

Now though things are different. Facebook seems to me to be much quieter than before and most of my interaction there is via private messaging rather than status updates or writing on pe and public messaging. And Twitter is proving to be much more than just letting people knowing what you are doing at a particular time.

Its beauty is its simplicity. Twitter’s proposition is that you have just 140 characters to answer the question. ‘What are you doing?’. So far, so Facebook. But if you observe tweets from other users, you notice a marked difference to Facebook updates. What you are doing doesn’t just mean your current status, but also what you might be thinking, planning, debating, or questioning.

That’s where its value starts to shine through – quick updates, testing ideas, advising friends and colleagues what’s happening.

I’m increasingly advising people that blogging is hard work and labour intensive as a discipline. it needs careful thought, and commitment. Because of this its generally not instantaneous.

Twitter on the other hand is immediate – a short message delivered and received either  via a webpage, an rss feed, an SMS on a phone, blackberry, iphone, instant messenger… Hell, you can even update your Facebook status using Twitter

I’ve tried various ways of using Twitter. At the moment I recommend the Twitbin plug-in for Firefox, though I’m tiring of it because its not comprehensive enough.

Bloggers I have followed for a long time, like Jeremiah Owyang and Steve Rubel, make great use of Twitter, almost to the detriment of their blog posting in terms of frequency and depth. With Twitter, they can throw out an idea and get a very fast response from their readership.

So, what does this mean for the public sector. How could we make use of tools like Twitter? Well, the key is in its convenience. As I said above, I’m increasingly advising people not to blog because of the time and effort commitment. Twitter gets around that problem by lowering those barriers. That in itself is a bonus.

But Jenny Brown put the case for Twitter much better than I ever could in her presentation at the Barcamp. Its well worth a view.

POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote a rough version of this piece a few weeks ago (thus proving my point above that blogging can have a huge lag from draft to publish) I’ve noticed a raft of articles around the subjects of ‘why twitter is still relevant’ or ‘how business can use  twitter’. Which proves one thing, when people are talking about it, it can’t all be hot air.

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  1. Twitter is now indispensable, because it works on so many levels. It’s a quick publishing platform, it’s a social network, it’s an information source.

    For instance, I am now getting more and more of my reading material from Twitter – your tweet announcing this post got to me way before my RSS aggregator noticed it, for example.

    The other great thing is the open API, and people are doing some really cool mashups with it. This can only make it a more useful service in the future.

    The issues for Twitter and public service are around stability and its very open and public nature. WordPress prologue might be the answer to some of these things, and the idea of having a Twitter on an intranet, behind the firewall, is really interesting.

  2. Actually Dave, you’ve hit a good point which I didn’t think was such a problem when I first started writing this – stability. Twitter has been quite flakey recently and that of course brings up the big issue about relying on third party solutions without any control over their robustness.

  3. I have to say, I’m not convinced by the use of Twitter as a pseudo-RSS reader. It becomes an annoyance to be reminded several times, through several different channels, of the same new blog post.

    There’s definitely potential in Twitter as an alerting mechanism. I just think it needs to be crafted slightly differently. RSS is not dead yet.

  4. I don’t think anyone is predicting the end of RSS, but at least you responded so it must have worked!

  5. I’m certainly posting LESS on my blog as Twitter is now my link blog, conversational tool.

    But, when I use them together, it helps to spur them both along, synergistically.

  6. “But, when I use them together, it helps to spur them both along, synergistically.”

    Mmmm.

  7. I have been thinking a lot lately about Twitter, and have been using it – probably badly – but including it in my day-to-day comms to see how it might be useful (to me).

    I believe that you should be wary of thinking Facebook is quiet: Facebook is dead – the reason (IMHO) – is more to do with corporate banning of FB during the working day. I have come across this at work in the public sector (although not my own current dept FCO), but also privately. Just this weekend I was at a hotel where the concierge is on Facebook, (I have managed to secure bookings and introduce him to potential clients through FB). Whilst there he asked me to try to help make the general manager understand the importance of this kind of interaction as he (the GM) had imposed an FB ban at work.

    I think that FB will settle back into peoples’ lives and will continue to be a valuable and used communication tool – hopefully with more sophisticated use (if that doesn’t sound too grand).

    Twitter I find slightly intimidating – for bloggers I can see that it is invaluable, and completely agree that Jenny B has been brilliant at explaining how it could be used. I have found two areas where I would find Twitter useful:

    1. At meetings where I cannot attend, but want to know what is being discussed – I EXPECT someone to tweet the news, and direct people to my Twitter identity – hubmum (long story).

    2. As a tool that could be used for emergency updates, travel advice and potentially an alert that could be switched on and off easily according to the need.

    I am uncomfortable with it being so flaky – but James Darling’s app that he has developed http://communitysafe.gov.uk could be a solution to safely feeding Twitter.

    My interest is piqued, but I am not convinced.

  8. In terms of loweing barriers, Twitter’s also great ‘cos it ain’t on a computer (or at least needn’t be). Those li ‘ol ladies who have mobiles but wouldn’t dream of a new Mac ‘Airdo can just SMS and be part of it. Let’s the WI, that community group… anyone make use of the Network effect.

  9. Emma – not sure about the scale of Facebook being banned from workplaces. Sure there are plenty of places where it is, but also plenty where it isn’t. Anecdotely I think there is a great deal of variability in what is and what isn’t blocked. My guess is that Facebook isn’t blocked anywhere near as much as it is assumed. Also, I wouldn’t necessarily expect people to Twitter about a social event, it might happen it might not. I’d equally expect that to happen on blogs or in social networks depending on who was reporting back.

    Paul, thats a good point. Though at the moment I don’t know anyone who tweets but doesn’t have a computer. Maybe in a few years?

    • Raul
    • April 30th, 2008

    Arrived here through the WordPress application on similar posts 🙂

    I’m now on Twitter just because it allows me to have conversations with people 🙂

    You can follow me on Twitter as @hummingbird604

  1. February 20th, 2008

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