Twitter’s Value

I’m still figuring out whether Twitter is more than a distraction. It occurs to me that it has perhaps the three most important design elements for a successful new web-based (and particularly social-networking) technology:

  1. Twitter works as a simple general-purpose tool with very little structure determining how, exactly, people are supposed to use it. Compare, for example, with the many social networking sites (Friendster, LinkedIn,, etc.), each of which have a fairly specific idea about how people should use it (dating, professonal networking, and, um, whatever they do on Tribe, respectively). The only limitations on how Twitter can be used are a few aspects that are defined by the medium — basically, messages short enough to fit into an unextended cell phone text message.
  2. Twitter doesn’t duplicate any existing system or medium for communication. Compare, again, the social networking sites, each of which has some version of “email” that is internal to the site. Would I ever want to “send someone a message through LinkedIn” if I actually had their email address? Twitter, on the other hand, doesn’t have an exact one-to-one correspondence with any existing email, text messaging, or instant messaging systems. It’s a sui generis form of communication.
  3. Twitter doesn’t require everyone to sign up to participate. Anyone can follow my Twitter feed without actually having their own Twitter account. This is essential to solving the “critical mass” problem. Of course there are benefits to establishing an account, but as far as I can tell, the only features that you don’t get without an account are those which necessarily would require an account. (Compare, again, most of the networking services mentioned above, where you need an account to view people’s profiles.)

(Add to this, of course, the now standard requirement that Twitter is free, at least as in beer.)

Now, I’m still not exactly sure how best to use Twitter, but there are some interesting commercial and non-commercial applications featured on the Twitter blog, e.g, this promotion from Dell, and this guy “Twittering My Diabetes.”