Sunday, March 22nd, 2009...11:17 pm

What’s The Deal With Twitter?

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That is a question that everybody seems to be asking me these days. I’m sure that most of you have heard about Twitter by now. The “micro-blogging” platform is expanding at a torrid pace and now has over five million worldwide users. Although Twitter has been hot for a few years with the digital early adopters (aka your nerdy friends), it has recently begun to crack through to the mainstream. Celebrates (Ashton Kutcher, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Matthews), athletes (Shaq, Lance Armstrong) and many politicians are using Twitter to connect with their fans and that has the mainstream media fawning. Last week, the Milwaukee Bucks Charlie Villanueva sent a tweet during halftime of a game which created tons of buzz in the sports world.

I’m going to try and use the next few paragraphs to explain why Twitter is getting so much buzz. I’ll also help you get started if you are interested.

Twitter is very similar to the Facebook status update feed (and even the entire new facebook design) or AOL away messages (back when people use to leave clever messages). You can send a tweet from the twitter website or your mobile device — by text or mobile application. Just about anything goes as long as it’s under 140 characters (the limit for a text message). People often tweet about what they are doing or what they are thinking about. Sometimes, they might pose a question or reply to another person’s tweet. You might be asking yourself why anybody would care that you are about to take a huge dump. It’s a weird concept and the best way to understand it is to try it for yourself. You can check out my latest tweets.

Any one dude’s tweets isn’t all the fascinating. It is just a collection of their thoughts over the last few days or weeks. Where it begins to get interesting is to check the aggregate list of all the tweets from the people that you “follow” (you can follow anybody you want – from personal friends to celebrities). Since everyone’s tweets are public it shapes up as a bunch of little conversations within the community that you have created. You can jump in by replying to tweets or passively follow along just to stay in the loop or to live vicariously through those that you admire most.

Another interesting thing to do is to search twitter. You don’t even have to be a member to do this. Enter in any search term and you should find an up to the second “pulse” of comments and tweets on the subject. Right now I’m watching the World Baseball Classic (which, by the way, gets as much love as the NIT). America is about to lose to Japan and will be eliminated. I just searched the term on Twitter and there are hundreds of posts on the topic. It seems like most fans are disgruntled that the USA is going to lose a world tournament of “America’s Pastime”. Other trending topics (what people are tweeting about right now) include Twilight and Celebrity Apprentice.

Twitter has been utilized in powerful ways during the Mumbai attacks and the airplane that landed in the East River as many of the first reports were from people who happened to be there and tweeted about it.

One of Twitter’s addicting qualities is that it feels so alive. Anytime, you check your feed you’re bound to have new updates. In my opinion, it’s digital crack – which I blogged about last week.

Twitter for me and you
I’ve been using Twitter regularly for the last three or four months. Everyone on my dodgeball team (which is basically a collection of tech/digital entrepreneurs) is in love with the service and they are either twittering or talking about twitter at every game. I see why they like it. They are all part of one never-ending communal conversation with the same people that they already interact and communicate with in real life. It would be like if you had a BBM conversation going with everyone on your BBM list in one big chat room. You’d probably be glued to your blackberry all day long. Imagine how many more girls Roy could get if he didn’t have to retype his tight BBM game to each girl individually.

Although I follow about 70 people, very few of those are people that I communicate with outside of Twitter. Most of my real life friends are hanging out on facebook, BBM, AOL or through email groups that we’ve created over the years. I try to imagine what it would be like if all of you were on twitter. It would be super useful to grab a drink during the week or meetup for lunch if I had free time during the day.

Getting Started
Go to twitter and sign up for an account. Enter your email credentials so you can see which of your friends in your address book are already on twitter and start to follow them. You can also view the suggested users or check out twellow to learn about other interesting people to follow. Once you have a solid group of people you should start to see tweets stream into your feed. Jump in with your own tweets, or reply to others to join the conversation. You can choose to have updates go directly to your phone by text message. I would recommend tha the better alternative is to download Twitterberry for your blackberry and there are a bunch of twitter appls for the iPhone. These are applications that work a bit smoother than text messages.

The Future of Twitter
Your guess is as good as mine. Twitter currently does not have a business model (meaning they don’t even try to make money). They are focusing on building out a huge, captive and vibrant platform and hope that an obvious business model naturally formulates. Major brands have started to use twitter as a marketing and customer service platform so they might be on to something.

Twitter is still so new and developing that everyone has grand ideas on how Twitter is, and will, change the world. My guess is that it falls somewhere along the line of instant messenger, social networking and text messages as communication mediums that can shift the way people converse and share information. It will certainly be interesting and fun to watch how it all plays out.

Hope this little Twitter primer has helped. The best thing to do is take the plunge and join the nation of Twitteronia (as @the_real_shaq likes to call it).