Twitter is the popular online service that asks you to answer the simple question "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less. Your answers (as well as others) can be subscribed to via RSS on your computer or SMS text messages on your mobile phone.
Last year at Mix 07, I joined Twitter so that I could write something and see it show up on the screen in the keynote room. It was a silly and fun thing to do. I didn't know much about the service or its purpose, but me signing up was all about the joy of participating in what I thought was a cool gimmick at the time.
I never logged into Twitter again, until I participated in the ReMIX Boston event in October of last year. At that time, I logged in and posted some things on it thinking Twitter was a great way to get the world excited about what was going on at ReMIX. Of course, not taking the time to realize how Twitter worked, it was THE worst possible use of Twitter. I didn't have any followers then, and I wasn't linked into any aggregate service like at the Mix 07 keynote. That meant no one was listening. I was effectively using it like an old fogie for the sake of trying to be cool. I quickly realized that right away during ReMIX, and logged off.
I didn't see the value of using Twitter then. So I never logged into it again. Why go out of my way to visit a web site and login into yet another service? (See my issues with social networking for more on that question.)
About three weeks ago, I had an awakening as to why I would want to consider using it. After having seen a desktop smart-client for Twitter (Witty) it snapped: Twitter is to blogging like IM is to e-mail. Duh! Okay... I sorta get that. So, I decided to log in and give it a try for real this time.
The real reason is that the smart-client application brought it home for me: This could be another service like instant messaging that's just "always there" whenever my computer is running. It's not a web site that I need to go out of my way to sign into. Plus, with the mobile functionality (SMS messages or mobile smart-client), it's something that could really follow me around and be easy to access.
Since then, I've found Twitter to be a LOT of fun. It's quite entertaining to see what everyone is up to. I've had to get a handle on some of the etiquettes of using it. Thanks to Tim Heuer for covering the basics here. Answering the question "What are you doing now?" all of the time always felt sort of exhibitionist to me. My initial thoughts on the types of things I'd be reading or writing on Twitter:
"Scratching my butt"
"Going to sleep"
Does the world really need to know these things? I mean, really, do they?! No. I don't think they do. And while I've "tweeted" (the slang for posting something on Twitter) things like that as a joke, I really DON'T want the world to know when I'm picking my nose.
Over the first two weeks, I spent time finding as many of my friends and colleagues on the service as possible. As I started adding people, I learned about things they were doing that I normally wouldn't have ever known about (like the Online Community Un-conference Open Space event in NYC from @scottw). There have been moments where I've started to wonder if I've opened Pandora's box by creating yet another fire hose that I will inevitably feel the need to consume. Fire hoses, like my e-mail inbox, are generally great time sinks.
Last week at Mix 08 in Vegas, I had my first opportunity to use Twitter in the type of environment where folks had told me it would be very useful. Where else would you care to know what people are doing then at a large conference where you're constantly trying to find your teammates or know where the latest party was. Update update update is all I kept doing on my phone in the evenings. Alas, Twitter kept me well connected and in the mix (pun intended :).
I can definitely see the benefit of "tweeting" different events that I want people to know about. It also seems to work well when you want to ask someone a question. For example, "I'm hanging in the lounge. Anyone want to meet up for some poker?" Or, "Hey, I've lost my laptop's power cord. Anyone have a spare I can borrow?"
After three weeks of real usage, I don't know if the utility of Twitter will keep me using it, or if I'll tire of the novelty. All I know is that every time the little chime sounds on my laptop, I feel compelled to stop what I'm doing and read what someone else is doing!