It would certainly appear that Twitter is fast becoming the next big thing in the world of social networking. According to a number of reports today, traffic to Twitter has increased by an amazing 974% in the past year. According to the director of research for Hitwise, the company that has produced these figures, Twitter was
…one of the fastest growing websites in the UK last year, and it shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, the service is even more popular than our numbers imply, as we are only measuring traffic to the main Twitter website.
If the people accessing their Twitter accounts via mobile phones and third party applications (such as Twitterrific, Twitterfeed and Tweetdeck) were included, the numbers could be even higher. Many people seem to find Twitter addictive: the average amount of time that people spend on Twitter.com has more than trebled from less than 10 minutes a year ago to half an hour now.
Pretty impressive stuff. But what is Twitter and why is it being touted as the next big thing?
Twitter is essentially a service that allows account holders to update their status rather like the status section on Facebook. Using the question “What are you doing?” as a starting point, Twitter allows users to do exactly that in 140 characters. As well as updating your status, you can follow other people’s updates and read a feed of all the status updates of the people that you follow. Now, that may seem that it would be useful only for pointless meanderings and useless chitter-chatter, but it is also a useful tool for information sharing. Instead of sending emails to a number of different people, you can just post to your Twitter page and save an awful lot of hassle. Furthermore, as updates can be sent from your mobile phone by SMS, you don’t even have to access the internet to share info with your followers.
Twitter has proven to be an extremely useful tool of late. Take the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai. During the attack, people caught up in the events were able to ‘tweet’ (the term used for updating Twitter) the events that were going on around them when the media was trying desperately to grapple with the events as they happened. The same was true of the recent plane crash in New York. Local observers were able to tweet before the media could even get on scene. Although it lacks the authority of the media, these two events have demonstrated the strengths of Twitter as an information sharing service.
Personally, I have also found tweeting quite useful. Recently my wife flew out to Spain to be with her family and I was left home alone. During the course of that week, I had a lucky escape as there was a series of major road accidents on the way to work and I was held up for a couple of hours. As I could just send a text from my phone, I could let my wife know via my Twitter page that I was ok (cheaper than texting Spain!). It also came in handy when I was due to fly out to meet up with her. The last time we went to Spain at this time of year, there were massive delays and we were stuck at Heathrow for hours. The ability to tweet would have been very useful for keeping her family up-to-date with the latest regarding departures and arrivals. Luckily it wasn’t so problematic this time, but at least I could keep her informed.
But Titter can also be useful from a business perspective. It can help bring the business and their customers closer together. It could be particularly useful in the library field as it would be easy for the library to update ‘followers’ on what is going on in their local library in terms of events etc. It also enables users to post questions that can be answered via a tweet reply (using @username in the status window) and can also be used to post links to a blog or other useful resource (although it is necessary to shorten the address to a Tiny URL).
Of course, Twitter will also be used for bog standard pointless ‘twitterings’ and if that isn’t your bag, you might find it irritating, but you don’t have to follow people if they do have a habit of posting annoying updates. If you are fascinated by celebrity, it might well be right up your street. For example, I am currently following Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan (of Father Ted, IT Crowd fame) and Jonathan Ross (not because I am obsessed with celebrity, they are just interesting). In fact, I even managed to have a short tweet conversation with Jonathan Ross about ebooks (he has a Kindle and a Sony Reader apparently). So, if you are interested in celebrity, telling everyone what you are up to, or interested in sharing information, Twitter is certainly a very useful tool.
However, it does have some limitations. It would be useful if you could tweet to a group rather than an individual or everyone. That could make it much easier for those that wish to tweet for business and pleasure. The other problem at the moment, certainly for me, is that there are still a lot of people who have not brought themselves to get an account. Out of all my friends in my email address book, I am the only one with a Twitter account – which makes it pretty dull at the moment! However, I am convinced that Twitter has a lot of potential and, alongside ebooks, could just be one of the big things for 2009.
If you want a more comprehensive explanation of Twitter, I found this YouTube video that explains all about it and how it can be used in the workplace (be warned it is over an hour long…..the first 5-10 minutes should be enough to explain what it’s all about)