Twitter is it evil or can it be used for good

(Warning I am not sure this post is fully thought out, yet)

For the folks at Twitter, SXSW must have felt like a debutante ball with all of the fuss being made over their little baby. I have been a user of Twitter since November, actually I started on the same day as Scoble, well before the current craze that seems to have hit the world, look at the Technorati chart for the last 30 days:-
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

Or at a recent analysis in the growth of Twitter messages, 23 in March 2006 to over 8.2 mil as of today, mostly since late November. This thing is popular!

Like many initially I wondered what it was all about. But that was before I had friends, signed up my phone and IM client. It was all a bit of a yawn, social networking is no fun by yourself. Slowly I found a couple of friends, started getting SMS updates and things started to improve.

I have written a few blog posts trying to speculate what Twitter could be used for. But I am still not 100% sure what Twitter is all about, nor if it can be used for good.

Now it seems now that every man, woman, child and the occasional cat have an opinion about Twitter both good and bad. Ross Mayfield says it has tipped the tuna with the explosive growth from SXSW but still no one has a definitive answer on how we can use Twitter.

However I fear that with the “friends-race” executed by Chris Pirillo and Robert Scoble in the last few weeks will is causing the service to be dismissed by “outsiders” as just yet another geek toy. (Note: yes I follow both of them but before the “friends-race” began as sometime they Twitter some really interesting stuff.) No one can keep track of so many “friends” and not be driven crazy with the drain on their attention. Let’s not even start to talk about them blowing Dunbar’s number out the window when it comes to usage able social networks.

So back to my first question, can Twitter be used for good? Like blogging it can be used for many different things.

Looking at some comments on Robert’s post where his wife has banned him from talking about Twitter Jim Johnson lists a few “uses”, which are promptly shot down, but do raise some practical applications. Let’s now look at uses for Twitter, starting with Jim’s, and yes some are a stretch:-

  1. Letting your social circle know where you’re going? “We’re hanging out at XXX this Friday…”
  2. Reporting even little events as they happen, would have been useful in Sydney this week. “Bad traffic accident on the ##. Find another route.” “It’s a Boy!!” “Dad just hit a hole in one!!” “Derek Jeter just walked in to our restaurant…”
  3. LiveBlog; rather than wait until after some event happens to read someone’s liveblog – we can see it happen in real time.
  4. A partial presence indicator
  5. Because of the easy API a low $ notification system monitoring and notification service for businesses
  6. From Life Hacker : To Do List
  7. Again from Life Hacker : People Management
  8. Microblogging when you don’t want a full service blog
  9. Finding like minded geeks in your city
  10. A lost and found service
  11. A reminder service
  12. A reminder service at a conference for people to attend a session
  13. Personal middleware to let you know what is going on in your life
  14. Anything where you need to communication with a group people in a hurry

    6 more from Life Hacker

  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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 to shrink URLs to keep it under 140 characters). It’s *like* using to share, but it’s instant, and you wouldn’t drop 100 links on someone in Twitter in a given day.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.

If Obvious were to add group messages then things will get even more interesting.

There has even been posts about being a good Twit, and as the Slacker Manager says the tool is not for everyone, but everyone should give it a try. register, set up their phone and/or IM client. If you do give it a try here is a good beginners guide to Twitter.

At the end of the day Twitter will only survive if users find a use for the service. At this stage I think it is a bit early to be calling its death.

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