Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Twitter" A Social Radar! - Pros and Cons

Jeff Pulver's 140 character conference will be taking place in New York City on 16/17 of this month. Various characters from the worldwide twitter community will be descending into NYC to talk about what twitter means to them. They will share their thoughts on subject of twittering and making sense out of 140 characters.

Twitter has been talked about much in the past few months starting from the interesting episodes of "Student who twittered out of an Arrest in Egypt" to the "Hudson crash-landing incident" and many other daily trending topics. I personally use twitter to rant about various things from technology to finance and pretty much everything else in between. I have made a few friends through twitter and though I have never met them in real life I have conversations with them on meaningful topics from time to time.

As an entrepreneur working on technologies that merge presence and leverages micro-expression, I believe that this conference will bring together a meeting of wonderful minds and provide an unique opportunity to interact with people who are thought leaders in the area of applications built around twitter.

I want to list out the pros and cons of twitter here and see what other people have to say about it at the conference.


1) Ambient Awareness: Twitter like updates, though seen as mundane by many is interestingly termed "ambient awareness" by technology writer Clive Thompson. Read his Sixth Sense article here. The process by which you follow quick, abbreviated status updates from the constituents of your extended social network.

2) The Power of Brevity: I believe @biz once called twitter, "the messaging service we didn't know we needed until we had it". I think in some ways the brevity of input to any status updated and the creative ways in which people fine tune their limit of 140 characters to get their point across has shown that communication can occur effectively in micro-expression. Can a twitter like system be expanded to get rid of the clutter of email? Maybe!!

3) A customized newsfeed: Twitter has become a "Social-Radar" for me as it gives me an instantaneous view of what is going on with the people that I follow. I am also aware of breaking news from various parts of the world as I follow tweets from people and organizations of locations I am interested in. Twitter has become my listening device. It provides a source stream of information that when appropriately filtered gives me more specific information than random rants at the water-fountain. The trending topics section gives me an idea of what is the topic of discussion at the moment in the outer reaches of twitter and whether I should listen in and contribute if necessary.

4) A Marketing/PR tool kit: Twitter is an automatic system/tool-kit for marketing and public relations. You can reach out to your customers and ask them about products or features and get their feedback instantaneously. Product roll out information, recall notices, links to announcements and other information that needs to be quickly disseminated publicly can be done via twitter with a link to the main article leading people back to the company website. Having a presence on twitter is powerful for companies in many ways.


1) Quality of Information: A Harvard business publishing article by by Bill Heil and Mikolaj Piskorski states that the top 10% of prolific twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. Many of these top tweeters could just be using twitter as a quicksand to lead people away to their websites or businesses. You will have to filter and prune your following list from time to time for the sake of sanity.

2) Vulnerability: Earlier this year at Soccomm, Jeff Pulver stated that it was important to share the human side of yourself in the social network that you belong to. This vulnerability as he defined it further as, "You have to put your guard down when you want to connect to people so that they do not doubt your true intentions and see you for the person that you are". One should be careful in what they reveal about themself on twitter or elsewhere on the web. Recently an AZ twitterer alleges that his home was robbed because he tweeted about where he was on vacation. Be vulnerable to earn people's trust, but not vulnerable to cause you harm.

3) Chatter effect: Twitter tends to create a lot more noise than signal at certain times. For example, I find there is a lot of duplication of info when you are following a trending topic especially as people start re-tweeting (RT) other people's information. This can sometimes cause mis-information as unverfied information can get propogated and pushed. I experienced some of this misinformation when I was following the mumbai terror attack on twitter.

4) Twitter Safety: Don't tweet your way into an SEC investigation and don't tweet your way out of a job. Companies whose employees tweet must be aware of the limits of what their employees can or can't talk about in these public forums. Then there is the good example of that potential Cisco employee who tweeted himself out of a job by making a lame comment on twitter. Also another famous example of notorious tweets is that of @keyinfluencer whose tweet about Memphis was picked up by a Fedex (based in Memphis) employee and sent up the chain. Read Peter Shankman's post on the same.

In the end, I conclude by saying twitter and the very concept of micro-expression is a valuable tool. A plethora of twitter based applications are available and listed at the conference site as well. Use it wisely. Some of my favorites are "stocktwits", "tweetdeck" and "twitpic".

Hope to see some of you fellow tweeters at the 140 conf.

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