Twitter Review: Waste of Time or Extremely Valuable?

TwitterSo I finally gave in and started using Twitter this past weekend (if you’re on Twitter, follow me at twitter.com/bobcaswell). What is Twitter? It’s a mix of instant messaging, email, Facebook, and text messaging. It’s a network of users that follow each other. Here’s how it works:

It’s quick and easy to sign up; you just need a username, password, and email address. Once in, you can have it scan your email contacts to see if you know anyone already using Twitter. Or, it allows you to quickly send invitations to anyone you’d like. One way or another, you need some friends before getting started. The whole point of Twitter is to answer the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters are less. Your friends instantaneously see a trail of your answers, and you see a feed of their latest answers as well.

If none of your real life friends are using Twitter (which is mostly the case for me), you can start making friends by following anyone who seems interesting. For me, it wasn’t hard to quickly find and follow 150 or so pseudo- friends (that is, people who I already know from their blogging online even if I don’t know them in person). And each time you add someone to your following list, they get an email from you. If you don’t know where to start to find friends, check out the Twitter public timeline, which is a running list of all “tweets” (messages) updated every four minutes.

Some people like to keep their following list limited and won’t follow you just because you follow them (which is just fine). But others will add you as a friend (i.e., follow you) after you begin following them (like entrepreneurship celebrity Guy Kawasaki who added me within minutes of me adding him). So, in short, Twitter relationships can be summed up as follows:

  • I can follow you, and you can follow me.
  • I can follow you and you don’t follow me.
  • You can follow me, and I don’t follow you.

Twitter can also be setup easily for your cellphone. In fact, that’s what it’s designed for (the tweet limit of 140 characters is so that it works well with cellphone text messaging). This makes for a lot of tweets that read something like, “bored, waiting in line at…”

So what’s the purpose of Twitter? The Twitter FAQ states it as, “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected.” But from what I’ve seen, people use it more for other reasons. Marshall Kirkpatrick explains how he uses it to find the latest breaking tech stories. NBC, CBS, ABC Family and MTV are using it as a marketing platform. And of the 150 friends I’m following so far? A good chunk seem to use it almost exclusively for alerting everyone when they have a new post on their blog.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these uses, mind you. In fact, I’m inclined to be one of the users that adds most anyone who either seems at least mildly interesting or has already added me. I don’t think Twitter should be confused for email (i.e., a service where you generally scan/read every message). I’m inclined to use it as more of a zeitgeist or snapshot of the latest happenings of those I follow. Overall, I like it and will likely contribute / check others’ contributions frequently.

But it’s interesting for me to see how some have already claimed it to be a wasteful addiction that should be bridled. Well, true, but couldn’t that be said of anything used in excess? If you need it, here’s a 12-step program for email addicts that can just as easily be applied to any technology addiction. Incidentally, Twitter is already popular enough to have had a third party (Twitterholic) create a list of the top 100 most popular Twitter users.

Overall, I think I like Twitter. Is it a waste of time? Maybe. Is it useful? Maybe. However you’d like to classify it, it’s at least an interesting experiment in communication.

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