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.
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.