Friday, January 27, 2012

Twitter: What's It Good For?

Since I'm on the subject of Twitter anyway, might as well riff on it a little. And I see that Carl Bussjaeger poses the question (in non-question form):

OK, I've tried Twitter. Still don't see point. Boring, limited. Sticking to my blog & website: 12 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

The short answer to the title question is "it depends."

First, a bit of heresy: Twitter is good for attracting an audience to content. That's not what it was supposed to be about, and quite a few people complain about it, but hey ... it does work. A link to every post here at KN@PPSTER gets tweeted to my nearly 2,000 "followers," and any given post will get a few visits from that tweet, and perhaps from "retweets." Over at RRND, same thing -- if my analytics are correct, our Twitter feed brings about 100 visitors a day to the site.

As an information consumer, I find Twitter extremely useful, too. I see content every day that I'd never have known about if someone hadn't tweeted a link.

Using Twitter that way does have its down sides, of course. It limits the utility of Twitter for other things.

Things like conducting a continuous, short-burst, informal conversation with a group of friends. Since I follow those who follow me, I'm following close to 2k people as well, which means that unless (or even if) I do nothing all day but watch Twitter, I'm probably only going to catch the high points.

And things like using Twitter in an office setting. A few years back, Tamara worked in a (very computerized) office where it was important to know where everyone was at all times (and where any given person might be as far afield as, say, Nepal). I suggested (the suggestion was not adopted) that the office personnel set up Twitter accounts linked to their work emails, keep their statuses updated on said accounts, and follow each other. That way, when X needed to know where Y was, it would be as easy as looking at Y's latest tweet ("gone to lunch, be back about 1;" "back from lunch, at my desk;" "gone home for the day;" etc.). And as a bonus, since most people in the office carried cell phones, they could update even while out of the office ("stranded in Nepal; someone get a sherpa out here, stat").

As the political establishment worldwide is learning (and responding to), Twitter's also a good way to coordinate protests and other actions, or even just to get a large conversation going on a topic of shared interest. Just set up a hashtag, and everyone who wants to be involved keeps an eye on it (of course, those who want to surveil you can too, which is why some new and different tools are coming into use).

You can set up multiple Twitter accounts to do different things, and there are apps that handle those multiple accounts for you. And there are other tools that can do some of the same things, perhaps better for your purposes.

But, overall, Twitter can be useful for any purpose that requires (or just benefits from) the ability to quickly and easily communicate with multiple people in short text message format across multiple device types (desktop computer, cell phone, Blackberry, what have you).
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