I've gotten a flood of new people following me on Twitter over the past couple days.  If you had done this a week ago, you would already know all about how hectic my work has been this week, how I missed my train into the city to meet up with that work this morning, and how I plowed into the back of a BMW on 202 as a result of missing my train.  If you had signed up a month or two ago, you would have been able to follow my Habari tour from Philly down to BlogOrlando up to Columbus and back.  In fact, I told Berta- Don't expect me to call, you will be more informed about what I'm up to if you look at my Twitter page.  So what's so great about Twitter?  If you had asked me this or why I signed up back when I first heard about it, I would have told you, seriously, I haven't the foggiest clue.  Today, I have very specific reasons why Twitter, as simple and stupid-seeming as it is, is one of the best ideas to land on the web in a while, and would confess to being unable to do a ton of stuff I've done over the last few months without it.  I think the key to Twitter is this: You must get as many of your IRL (in real life) friends to follow you as possible.

Don't mistake this for some kind of social network friend gathering.  The goal is not for you to follow people, the goal is for people to follow you.  Sometimes, you can do this simply by following your friends to begin with.  If you're me, you're discerning about who you choose to follow -- I choose a person either because I like to know what they're doing every day, or their physical proximity to me is such that knowing what they're up to can be helpful.  There are people out there who "follow" hundreds of people.  I can't imagine that the signal/noise is very useful for following in that case.  In this situation, don't be offended that I'm not following you.  When you see how I use Twitter, you might understand better.  I also change who I follow depending on where I am, or who I want to know about at the time.  In most situations you want to be clued-in on events that are local only to where you are, not events that are happening elsewhere.  You don't follow your friends when they're all on the other coast unless you're looking to be depressed about everything you're missing.  Also, the flavor of updates is something to take into consideration.  The frequency and content of Twitter postings, just like a blog, should be used to decide whether to follow someone, friend in real life or not.  So when you've got your network of followers, what can you do?  Here's an example...  I've met a few really great people in Philly, and they follow me on Twitter.  I follow these guys too, so that I know what's going on downtown in case I want to try to be involved.  When meeting clients in a rented office space in the city this week (sorry, couldn't use IndyHall for a number of reasons), I didn't really know the area well enough to pick a good local place for a first-time visitor cheesesteak lunch.  I sent out the word on Twitter looking for a good place to eat.  By lunch time, I had several responses, we chose one and had one of the best cheesesteaks ever.  When BlogPhiladelphia was in town, I sat across the table from Colin who - I kid you not - Twittered for beer.  Seriously, the Twitter was like, "My beer glass is empty." Moments later, Colin had free beer, without leaving the table or even speaking.  (Unfortunately, most of Colin's tweets from that July evening have mysteriously disappeared, but there is still photographic "evidence".)

That's a silly example of the practical use of Twitter.  Sure, these examples are not Earth-shaking, but when I twittered about my unexpected traffic encounter this morning, guys at IndyHall were able to tell my client that I was going to be late even though I did not have a phone number to call there or my client's cell number handy.  I don't care how you slice it, that's useful.  If you're just signing up for Twitter to be on the bandwagon, that's ok.  I see a lot of folks now using the Habari plugin to post new posts to Twitter (like this one will be shortly) which is neat if people aren't already reading you via a newsreader.  It's nice to have your blog writing tracked among other "what I'm doing right now" entries.  If that's all you're using Twitter for, you're really missing out on a useful internet tool with influence in the real world.  Hopefully, that'll just get you in the door and you'll start using it more and seeing the usefulness of the service beyond a simple vanity notification system.

Comments

Don't you need to manually update it with what you're doing? It seems like most of the use would be automatically taken care of by posting GPS location. There are already cell networks/phones that allow this exact feature.

The thing that makes twitter seem completely useless to me is that I have to tell people what I'm doing. My time is valuable to me (more than pretty much anything else) and spending that time (even 30 seconds) to give people updates on what I'm doing seems absurd. The gain seems marginal (you're the first person I've talked to who seemed to thing that their use of twitter was more than just novel), and just as easily done with RSS. All twitter seems to offer is a consolidated system for everyone which is to their benefit but not of much use to anyone else.

I agree that it would be useful to have an additional GPS feature that would automatically post some events as you arrived at certain places. But I don't know how you would avoid telling the system in some way what you're doing. Just being in a place does not necessarily provide information about why or what might be interesting there that other people might want to know about.

Twitter is mostly a public instant messenger. You tell people who might be interested what you're doing, or ask questions of many people who might know the answer. It's definitely not a panacea for presence, but I've found it genuinely useful. Unlike RSS where people have to subscribe directly to users, Twitter centralizes publication/subscriptions and provides the service via web or SMS, which is difficult to do with RSS-publishing-only services.

Twitter's ideal use is at conferences, where you can follow people at the conference to see what's going on, meet for food, learn what you're missing, find the best afterparties, etc.

Twitter is great, am I'm addicted to it already. As I'm always on the road, it'd be nice to share with my friends what I'm up to lately. I notice you also twit earlier, though I didn't follow you :)

What is the advantage of it being centralized?

How is it actually different than RSS? What is an example of something you could do with twitter that couldn't be done with RSS? Don't you still need to subscribe (or at least check) to particular "feeds" on twitter, just like RSS, or does it just spam you with messages?

I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just trying to figure out the utility past the novelty. It still seems pointless to me if you already have an RSS feed. At best it seems like a mass internet SMS system where the recipients pick themselves. It's not really IM because you don't have much (if any) choice in to whom you're talking and they have no way to actually reply to you specifically.

Now that I think about it, it's like radio broadcasting where you can only send short messages. There's no return path, except through your own broadcasting (or another channel). The radio analogy is probably better, though, because it is natually local... twitter is internet-wide.

I would say the primary differnce between twitter and an RSS feed is that twitter aggregates a specific type of information. The information in twitter is, generally, more time-specific. As in Owen's example, he was able to send a request out for a specific piece of information that he needed in a fairly short time-frame. I don't feel that it is significantly different than existing options, but that the minor differences are what gives it the usefullness that it has.

Here is a potential example of Twitter doing useful things.

I guess saying that I find it useful and giving reasons why I think that isn't enough, so I'm not sure what else to say. Twitter itself isn't inherently useful, but I believe that you can find a way to make it very useful for yourself.

It's centralized in that you follow certain users, and you get a feed (it is RSS) that has all of their updates in it. The Twitter API allows you to send updates to Twitter when you do things outside of Twitter, like post a blog post. Since you only follow the people you're interested in (and if you follow my post instructions, only follow people when you're interested in what they have to say), you get all of the updates you need from one feed.

Also, there are methods to reply directly to other people, either in a public reply using "@username" or in a direct message, using "d username" then your message.

The system is available to people via SMS, web, or any client that implements the API. With SMS you have the ability even as a non-internet-savvy user to receive the feed-like data on pretty much any phone, which is great when you're mobile. I don't know of another way to get RSS updates on an ordinary SMS-capable phone.

It takes a while to figure out how best to make it work, and it seems there is a stigmatic barrier to using it initially because it looks somewhat pointless at first glance. Many people don't see the utility, and it's difficult enough to explain how you eventually achieve it that many people never make it past that initial leap, much less to the nirvana of useful application.

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