There's a huge swell of support in Silicon Valley of this obscure new application called Twitter, which I've been using for a short while now. Twitter doesn't grab you at first. In fact, many people wonder what it actually is and what one is meant to use it for, arriving and then promptly leaving once they fail to see the point of it. I did it. A lot of people are the same. Even though people were ranting about it at the time, I just didn't get it. But then something twigged, I realised it was more than just SMS, or IM, or RSS, but in fact a simple but somewhat obscured blend of all three, and I was hooked. In my first week using it I was not able to walk in a straight line or make 20 yards without hitting a lamp post. I was hooked to my mobile, which had become a mobile IM buddy list of the handful of the media bloggers I had become accustomed to conversing with through their blogs. Our blogging social network had become cumbersome, but Twitter had sparked it to life.
I think that Twitter is a tidal wave heading to British shores. If you'd have asked me four months ago what I thought of it I would have said something like what Stevo or Jonny are saying now. But then one day I got it, and I think it might just catch on with a lot of people over here soon.
For those following the blogs, podcasts and wikis of the US digerati you'll no doubt notice a trend. They're ALL going on non stop about Twitter. But us Brits don't embrace new technologies as quickly as our Silicon Valley counterparts. Everyone knows that. Some of the UK digerati are saying they don't get Twitter at all. Some of the early adopters in the UK are actually saying they spend too much time online already, so Twitter is not for them. But many of us are embracing it. And the media is only just starting to pick up on it. (queue the impending cover stories...)
So confusion, slow-to-get-it-ness and hype aside, I think there are five reasons why Twitter will one day be a major social media platform in the UK.
1. We're SMS addicts. Of all nations, us Brits were the early adopters of text messaging, so it follows that we would be into communicating via twitter in the same way and love it. If you want to mash up SMS and IM, that's Twitter.
2. Ease of use - blogs are in decline, according to Technorati, but Twitter is so much easier. Steve Rubel has asked the Twittering bloggers if one is eating the other, and although the result was not unanymous, it raised questions.
3. We're a rumour nation - Twitter makes social media quicker and it crosses platforms including web, mobile and the living room. People post quicker and research less when they post news on Twitter, and that will impact social networks in a big way.
4. IM is the new email, which is why Twitter will be the new blogging. Real time, instant feedback, open conversations. It's more now than the message-board style posting which blogging has become.
5. We love talking about the weather, us Brits. Well, we talk about all sorts of boring topics. The weather is one. How we're keeping (not too bad) is another of our favourite inane topics of conversation. Twitter brings conversations like that to the social web, so you can tell the world that the weather's been OK recently recently and you're feeling not too bad thanks.
I have to play Devil's advocate briefly to offer a balanced argument, even though I'm a Twitter fanboy. Why will Twitter suck? Firstly, it's just text, an that's so yesterday. Twitter will need pics, video and audio posting if it's going to really permeate social web culture.
Secondly, Twitter's got its limitations for group convesations. You would really need to be able to create bespoke groups in order to get groups of mates, colleagues and the public communicating in the ways you'd want to speak to them in.
Thirdly, Twitter doesn't allow you to easily post your content into another place. For example, I'd like my Twitters to go into my blog like del.icio.us lets me do, or on to my Flickr, if I could upload pics. The Twitter badge functionality goes part way there, but it's not great.
So where next? Will you be able to get Twitters from your Nabaztag to automatically let you know (using RFID) you're out of milk or that your other half has just arrived home? Or maybe you're a member of a project team that's international and you'd like to speed up your work, so the American with the web access, the Brit with IM and the Korean with SMS can have real time conversations and get a product to market quicker. Or maybe you will be able to get your upates on which tube lines have delays, or the details of song you're listening to on the radio... oh, that's already happening.
So what are the best tips and tricks for using Twitter effectively?
Christopher Penn lists six Twitter power tips:
- Subscribe to your Twitter feed in Google Reader. This will give you nicely readable archives that don’t suffer from whatever weird Ajax bug the regular Twitter pages have.
- In Yahoo pipes, set up a pipe for the public feed and filter on a keyword like PodCamp, SXSW, VON, etc.
- Subscribe to THAT feed in Google Reader and you have a pulse-monitor of near-realtime discussion from the cutting edge folks about your keyword.
- Share your Twitters in your Google Reader shared feed. Using tags in your shared items, you can specify, for example, Twitterstream.
- Use a filter in Yahoo Pipes on your Google Reader shared feed, filtering the content of the id field for your tag - instantly, you have a shared “best of Twitter” page and feed.
- Use a plugin like Feed Wordpress to auto-blog things in your best of Twitter feed.
- Quick Human Answers- Ask folks on your friend’s list which digital camera to buy for under $300 US, and you’ll get back a stream of responses.
- Conference / News Briefings- The last several major tech events were covered by Twitter. I heard about the Apple iPhone faster through Twitter than I would via blog surfing. Similarly, I’ve watched people in San Francisco report earthquakes that took news sources hours to confirm.
- Friendsourcing- Last Tuesday, I asked about a web designer for a project. I got back 14 emails in 10 minutes from different sources on Twitter. It’s a great place to find folks to help with things. We once helped a friend out of a bind when he got stuck at an airport, strictly by Twitter. (I write about friendsourcing on my blog).
- Micro-Attention-Sharing- Lots of us use Twitter to direct folks to blog posts we’ve written, news we find needs sharing, or entertaining things we’ve found on the web (Twitter has a built in function to use tinyurl.com to shrink URLs to keep it under 140 characters). It’s *like* using del.icio.us to share, but it’s instant, and you wouldn’t drop 100 links on someone in Twitter in a given day.
- Direct People to Good Causes- I’ve seen plenty of posts of someone doing a walk for hunger or a collection for diabetes. Twitter allows people to use their friend lists to propagate that information faster, and try to draw more direct help down to a problem.
- Bonus- As advertised, Twitter answers the question “What are you doing?” It means that you can stay in touch with others without being intrusive. Just follow their twitters.
And Slacker Manager tells us how to get Twitter to work for you in the best way to suit your media consumption needs or your favourite device:
- Once you’ve got your account set up, you can add [email protected] as a contact in whatever IM software you use (I use Adium on the Mac, and it’s awesome).
- Additionally, you can get your Twitter pushed to your phone, if that’s how you want it. Just check the appropriate bits in your devices settings. You can send SMS to 40404 if you’re in the US. Outside the US use +44 7781 488126
- If you use Gmail and GoogleTalk, you can add [email protected] as a contact and get your stuff there.
- If you’ve got a Blackberry, you should check out the Google Talk client and use it there. As if you needed another reason to fiddle with that thing in meetings.
- Same deal with Treos, actually. Any of the Treo IM clients will work with Twitter. If you must, just Google “Treo IM” and you’ll get a lot of leads. I’ve tried a few, but it’s really more than I can take. Good luck to you.
- On the Mac you’ve got a couple of standalone options. There’s Twitterific and Twitterpost. Regardless of which one you use, be sure to add the corresponding Twitter user to your friends list in Twitter. Twitterific is at http://twitter.com/twitterific and Twitterpost is at http://twitter.com/twitterpost. You’ll get updates on bugfixes, etc by adding them.
- If you’re rocking the PC you might check out Twitteroo. As with the Mac options, add the Twitteroo user as a friend in Twitter: http://twitter.com/twitteroo. There are no updates as I write this, but I’m sure that’ll change.
- If you want to take all this just a little bit slower, you can just grab the RSS feed for all the folks that you’re following, or for individual users. If you don’t IM, and you just want to follow a few people, you can grab their feeds–just go to their Twitter page and look at the bottom left corner for the RSS link. Subscribing to your own RSS feed (the one that contains all the twitters from the people you’re following) is a good idea. It acts as an archive of the content which can be quite helpful.
You can join me on Twitter, remember, at twitter.com/drewb. See you soon.