Why I Use Twitter, and Some of It's Uses Beyond the Status Update

Recently a bunch of friends of mine started pushing me to explain why I use Twitter, and to clarify how exactly it isn't a waste of time. They saw it as a watered down status update that is enough as it is on facebook. Below is my response, which I'm calling "Why I use Twitter, and Some of It's Uses Beyond the Status Update"

Its hard to easily understand Twitter without investing time with it. Twitter at its core is an information platform; twitter.com itself has little do to with what it can be or what it will become. Its essentially a decentralized communication system that is designed to pull in short messaging via many methods and allow the information to flow in just as flexible a manor. It can be communicated with via SMS, IM, RSS, web, or desktop application. In its simplest form it appears as a giant status feed, but its simplicity means that endless amounts of information will be pushed in and the power will come from pulling it out.

Things I have done with Twitter:
  • By using Twitter as a routing system I was able to text message Noor in India without incurring any fees. Sure you can email but she spent much less time on a computer there than she did on the phone, so texting was key to us keeping in touch.
  • By using Twitter I've participated in ad-hoc discussions with conference attendees around particular subjects at marketing conferences. Twitter made this possible even though people didn't know each other because we were all able to post messages, append them with hash tags (a name for short codes in tech prefixed with a # sign), and pull out feeds of any relevant posts via search or RSS. We even sometimes collaboratively take notes on presentations by using hash tags.
  • By using Twitter I have looked up feedback and reviews on netbook computers for Dannie, restaurants for myself, and more. 
  • I've also had discussions with people I've never met about products, news stories, and more by searching the public feed and messaging people I know have had personal experiences with those things.
  • I was able to follow live play-by-play of the 2008 baseball home run derby while we were all at ConeyIsland.
  • I learned about a major California earthquake last year 25 minutes before CNN broke the story on the web by following an alert of fast rising keywords on the Twitter feed.
  • I use Twitter to route messages to my blog, facebook, and other social locations all at once. Some of you may not feel the need to do that but I actively participate in many social web environments so scale is necessary.
  • I use Twitter to pass content to work message boards again by using hash tags. I can also use this method to update my to-do list, save pictures and text to word documents for storage, and much more.
  • I can learn about when the dessert truck or waffle truck move locations, when GMail is having service issues, when the NASA mars rover has a discovery, and more - all as soon as it happens.
  • I get CNN breaking news alerts, tech news alerts, even new york restaurant review alerts all in one easy to digest stream however I want it.
  • I can have discussions with entrepreneurs and marketing directors that I would never have access to.
  • I watched the election debates on CurrentTV spliced with filtered feeds of people's reactions and input to the candidates as they spoke.
This is still just a small sample of what you can do with twitter - it gets a lot more complex. The communication platform is leveraged now by thousands of companies, and over 10 million people or contributing information. Some of it useless but a lot of it is valuable. People contribute because they want there to be valuable content in the information pool - just like they do with yelp, or digg, or YouTube, or the tons of how to sites, etc. just like Bruce pointed out, you can post to twitter for the some reasons you can post to yelp, or anywhere. To get something out of it though you have to spend time and want to discover. You have to add a hundred or two people or companies that actually use twitter, not five friends who signed up once. You have to do searches for information, you have to post content so people want to engage you, you have to message other people and start conversation. I post normal life updates, but I also write mini reviews, post links to interesting content, post images, take notes on conferences, and more. you may have to use phone or desktop apps that make it easier to do all this. If you don't want to put in time, and you don't want to contribute, and you don't want to discover, then it probably isn't for you yet. You can go to CNN.com for your news (though I read today that people who follow the CNN twitter feed read twice as many articles a day on average than the people who go right to the website because they get more updates about new content and they are people who want to discover and consume more), and communicate with smaller circles of people. Eventually either facebook will finish ripping off the twitter features (its already started) or a product you like will come along and integrate twitter in a way that it works for you. But the point is - twitter isn't simple or stupid - and it will probably change communication and/or media consumption for all of us, in ways we don't even realize, if it hasn't already.