Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Frittering with Twitter: Messaging as Publishing

I was prone to thinking that Twitter was "yet another social media login" that would fast become another time-waster, but the buzz is becoming rather deafening so I finally broke down and set up an account. Twitter is basically a SMS-compatible messaging tool that allows one to broadcast text messages to networks of selected friends and, by default, the world. A Twitter profile allows one to get messages on any popular instant messaging service as well as on a mobile phone or online via a Web site, an embedded widget or an RSS feed. This uber-framework allows people to catch their network of contacts wherever they may be - and to shoot them little live observations.

Twitter messages can pack a fair amount of insight into a short space so some have begun to look at it as a "microblogging" service. As with blogs the medium is only as good as the message: do people really want to know every little twist of your day? Or, on the other hand, you can get over-enthusiastic about the medium and let go on a topic that gets broadcast a little too soon for its own good - as Steve Rubel noted recently. From this standpoint Twitter is more than a messaging service - it's a publishing medium that allows people to reach both micro-communities and the world as a whole. For people on the go who are shifting constantly between mobile devices and computer keyboards Twitter allows micropublishers to keep up with their social network more efficiently than either platform alone could manage.

Probably the most compelling aspect of Twitter from a publishing standpoint is its ability to onpass key URLs very quickly to people on the go. The next logical step would be to use Twitter as a service that will pop up content automatically for connected friends to share simultaneously via a browser. Instead of just social bookmarking we would then have social viewing - like having sixty people in the living room all playing with the TV remote at the same time. Twitter has its moment in the sun for now but if it cannot keep up the pace of development to stay abreast of people who want to share more than just little text messages effectively it may see its time come and go fairly rapidly. In the meantime, though, it's a convenient way to let people when you're off to the airport, down to the store for a jug of milk, sealing a deal or snapping up an award. Getting ahead of the real-time content curve will be all that more difficult as a result.
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