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.