Nowadays it looks like no newsworthy event or article can exist without being tweeted around. I myself went through the Twitter experience, and I thought I would write about how it is transforming my way of accessing information –or how the information finds me.
Twitter has been launched publicly in July 2006. Three years of existence in the internet startup space is quite a long time. But the buzz on Twitter really started about a year ago, when breaking news were made public first as tweets, when celebrities started to join the flock to break one-million followers, and when Twitter aimed at being the pulse of the planet with the first social network to reach one billion users. That goal is still far away, but the number of users has been decidedly accelerating, en route to 18 million users by the end of 2009, up from the 12 million projected earlier this year. Even though some are questioning whether that growth will continue, it looks like Twitter is here to stay. Its recent closing of $100 millions funding for a $1 billion valuation shows how seriously it is taken by the investment community, even in the absence of a clear revenue roadmap.
I have to admit, when I read three years ago about Twitter as a company that would promote “micro-blogging”, I laughed. Who in the world would write anything interesting in no more than 140 characters? And who would read these one-sentence thoughts? It looked to me that Twitter would just add more chatter to the internet, already clogged by an ever increasing white noise. Proof to my point is that even if the number of register users has been frantically increasing, the vast majority are barely using their account. Some estimate shows that 50% of the users tweet no more that once every two months and a half, and that 90% of the tweets are produced by the most 10% prolific Twitter users. To close that view of Twitter being a white noise generator, a quarter of the tweets are generated by bots.
Still, I decided to create my twitter account in August, and started to follow news and people, as well as (re)tweeting articles or news that caught my interest. After two months, it is clear that my initial assessment of Twitter was incorrect.
Sure enough, the stream of tweets is just a clamoring of trivialities, self-promotions, and spam-like marketing. But nobody (hopefully) listens to that noise as a whole. One chooses whom to follow, reducing the hose to a very specific thread of information. I myself follow less than 100 users, mostly news and tech oriented. The consequence is that for the past month, I didn’t check the RSS of TechCrunch nor I accessed the CNN home page and GoogleNews directly. Instead, I browse the tweets and click the links whenever I want to know more.
What I started as an experiment and an exercise of promotion of my blog ended up in changing completely my view of the service. Checking the RSS or the web page of an information provider or news aggregator is no longer the first thing I do in the morning (after reading my email!). It has been replaced with browsing the tweets. After using the web interface of Twitter –as well as TwitterBerry on my BlackBerry–, I came to use TweetDeck, and I love it. It allows me to group the people I follow by themes, and to conveniently browse and manage the latest tweets. I wish TweetDeck provided a more convenient way of creating groups –e.g., by adding, subtracting, and intersecting groups of users–, but the early beta version I have been using is the way to go.
I came to discover that Twitter is much more than a Haiku receptacle. It allows you to respond and interact very quickly with the content provider –no email, no comment, just a tweet, shared or private. Re-tweeting serves as amplifying the relative relevance of information, which you cannot do with other providers’ modus operandi but with a rating system. Also the 140 characters limit forces people to be accurate and to the point –strength of the message is in the title. For me it is less Twitter’s own motto “What are you doing?” than “What is interesting out there?”. Micro-blogging sounded ludicrous, still is, but tweeting a title and a link to a web page is altogether different.