People have asked me if I know of any conceivable practical use for Twitter. This “microblogging” platform lets you publish 140-character updates to a group of friends and the internet at large.
Like you, I’ve probably made fun of the entire idea of microblogging as completely unrelated to anything but what the blogger is eating at the moment. And at first, it was like that: people tweeted (that’s Twitter-speak for “publish”) odes to cheeseburgers, curry and pizza.
However, like all technologies, microblogging has matured. It’s no longer for humans. Instead, it’s a way to automate up-to-the-minute news with a quick description and url.
If you look at any fairly active Twitter stream now, you’ll see that’s the case. I love metaphors, so here’s my metaphor for Twitter as it’s going to be in its second stage: a teletype machine.
There’s a convergence between Digg, Twitter and Facebook that allowes the publishing of “updates” that in their second stage are of a functional nature.
First stage was people chattering away like teenagers in illicit notes passed around math class; second stage is the industrial version. It will function in two ways:
a) Promotion of items found on the internet
b) Real-time updates of alerts, deals, offers, etc
If you look on the top right of this page, you’ll see icons for RSS and Twitter. If you haven’t seen it, this kind of option is stealthily invading sites that offer real-time information across the net; it means their Twitter updates, or “tweets,” or produced by their web software any time new information is posted.
RSS and Twitter are convergences upon the same idea: finding a way to centralize all of our information. Gone is the mid-1990s blather about the portal site. The new portal is the browser, probably a mobile one, and people are looking for a way to get a dashboard or control panel for information from all of the people, businesses and organizations with which they’ve involved.
It’s likely that at this point, over half of Twitter’s users are on mobile devices like phones or PDAs. I’m hearing Facebook has experienced the same thing, so that people meeting in bars simply exchange Facebook profiles instead of scribbled phone numbers. Then they can update each other, letting opportunities for contact form passively.
It’s like a teletype machine in an old-school news office: every thirty seconds or so, it prints out a one-liner of the news. It’s how different offices across the world stay in touch, not a diary.
The office is now a more flexible definition however. Individuals are like small firms; many are also small firms that contract labor. Here’s a vision of how these mobile tweeting technologies are going to fit into our lives:
A young woman steps up to the counter at an auto dealership. Her car needs an oil change; the person behind the counter informs her that there will be a 24-minute wait. She smiles, thanks him (ideally), and sits down on a nearby couch — and whips out her phone.
She then proceeds to conduct all of the business of her life outside of her job: ordering goods on the internet, staying in touch with friends, even paying her phone bill. Even more, when she’s done with that, she’ll try to stay on top of what others she knows are doing, usually through their blogs/tweets and so on.
In the late 1990s, web designers anticipated a day when smart automated “agents” would know a user’s preferences and seek out advantageous contracts and purchases for them across the net. Until we trust our artificial intelligence machines more, we’re going to be doing it the old fashioned way: reading the teletype and checking off items we’re interested in, even if we do it on a cell phone/PDA hybrid like a Blackberry or iPhone.
Like most technologies, Twitter has grown up — and we’re going to see tools that address this perceived need grow further. Now that we’ve linked the world and everyone has something to say, the real challenge is quickly filtering wheat from chaff, much like your grandfather may have done reading over the teletype in his office.