There are plenty of near misses in the dot-com world. The Hits are difficult to predict. It helps to have a good idea, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be original. Having a well-connected team is a plus, and appears to have really given Twitter a shot in the arm.
Twitter is one of those up-and-comers that’s getting an inordinate share of buzz. Of course it doesn’t hurt when you have some rather high profile techies playing with it. Of course, I had to give it a test drive.
So what is Twitter? The story is best told from the horse’s mouth:
Twitter is a community of friends and strangers from around the world sending updates about moments in their lives. Friends near or far can use Twitter to remain somewhat close while far away. Curious people can make friends. Bloggers can use it as a mini-blogging tool. Developers can use the API to make Twitter tools of their own. Possibilities are endless!
Clear as mud?
In many ways, it reminds me of the rather crude shoutbox I’ve seen on sites for ages. The premise is that you tell your friends (or the world, if you choose) what you are doing — all in 140 characters or less. Why the character limit? Because text messaging is one of the primary methods of posting your activity. Of course, you can also use instant messaging, or the web site, or something like The Icon Factory’s Twitteriffic (if you’re running OS X).
You can also put a badge on your blog or website so others can see what you and your friends are up to. I’m using Sarah Issacson’s Twitter sidebar widget for WordPress — you’ll see it in the right-hand column under the heading What am I doing?
Of course, Twitter couldn’t be a self-respecting Web 2.0 project without some dimension of social networking or community. Yes, you can link yourself with other Twitter users, establishing contacts, and following their activities. The activities of the people you are following (the language is eerily stalker-ish) are sent to you according to your preferences. They can be displayed on your blog via a badge, or sent via IM or even text message to your mobile phone.
You can also send private messages to your contacts, or nudge them when they haven’t shared what they’re doing in a while. Hmm… maybe parents could use this to keep tabs on their txt-crazy kids.
Twitter began as a side project at Odeo less than a year ago, and had grown by leaps and bounds. There isn’t any apparent monetization yet, although it’s easy to picture the updates including targeted, 140 character adverts. “Your friend Jeff liked this… you might like it too! Click here to buy now.” For now, they are building market share, and really creating a new market where none previously existed.
My friend Tintin in Shanghai took a look at Twitter and her initial comment was “What a waste of time.” And yet, she signed up. What’s the attraction? Equal parts of buzz factor, simplicity, and fun. After all, we all need to waste a little time now and then.
Take a look at Twitter and let me know what you think? Does it pique your curiousity?