Why Twitter is Useful Beyond Traffic

When I first saw Twitter, I didn’t get it. Just in case you don’t here’s a really brief synopsis.

Twitter gives you a page you can update with short text messages by logging in to their site, or via your mobile phone. Your updates post to a page that has rolling updates on it. You can also subscribe to other people’s updates. The system calls them friends but they aren’t always. And there’s a spy page where you can see up to the second rolling updates from the entire community.

Some people hate Twitter. I did at first because it sucked up my time at first, without being worth its time in money. Just about anything that does that irks me. But then I found the first cool thing about Twittering – slap a link in your Twitter box and it’s instant traffic from a targeted group – just be sure and describe your link. Otherwise only your friends who have opted to follow your updates will click, and even then, only when they’re bored.

That’s really just a sidebar, though. Traffic is nice, but I know about a thousand (no, really) ways to get targeted traffic. And I’ve been meaning to write them down. Getting back to the topic though, Twitter has put me in the visibility of many people who I’ve always wanted to get to know. Instead of angling for a way to contact them, I can usually blog about something they’ve twittered, and they will often find me through my blog.

I also caught up with some people I haven’t spoken with in like a year and a half who have done extremely well in the interim.

Twitter is also a simple way for me to get what used to be called backchannel messages. It’s when someone contacts you privately, outside the stream of a conversation or activity you’re presently sharing. What makes this possible is the time notification of the Twitter when you have the page in a tab or if you’re keeping an eye on your RSS.

The usefulness isn’t really in knowing what the other person is doing, unless they’re blogging and have updated with a link. No, it’s in knowing that they are near enough to some kind of technology that can update to Twitter. If someone has just Twittered, I know that they’re online, via Web, IM, or phone. So I know I can get in contact with them just then.

And if they did just blog, chances are they’re still on the site. Which means they’ll see my comment right away. Which makes for a better feeling of connection on both sides.

My favorite thing about Twitter is that it’s access to me, without revealing any personal information. I can get a direct message, or a public message, or a reply in to one of my Twittered messages, in real time. Having too many real-time tools will get to be an annoyance, and soon. For now though, it’s much more help than harm.

The thing that could destroy that (and it’s happening already) is not easily having control over exactly who had access to the fact that you’re on Twitter (let alone your username). If I put my Twitter badge on my site, then I’m fair game. But if I don’t and someone still gets my information (There are ways), then it’s not as fun anymore, because then I am open to Twam (Twitter Spam. Poetic License).

Another thing Twitter needs is a distinction between who is a friend, contact, colleague, online buddy (we need to make up a word for people we only know online who are not quite friends. Someone else said that yesterday, but I can’t remember who), freak, stalker, parasite, mentor, groupie, etc. And it needs to be in a way that is not transparent to the other person. That way I can sort by group who sees my updates.

I am on Jaiku as well, but it doesn’t feel like as much fun. I’ll update you if I do that.

My next article is going to be on my big surprise at LinkedIn. It might not be tomorrow, because that’s Google Tuesdays at one of my other sites. Ta.

[tags]Twitter, web 2.0, love Twitter, hate Twitter[/tags]