Is Twitter really that important?

So this post caught my eye the other day and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. For all of it’s expounding and it’s diatribe, it seems to me to essentially boils down to the idea that twitter needs to be fixed as a tool for communication. Not that it needs to be enhanced or decentralized but that it just needs to address the essential problem of availability. Which I think is difficult, given the use cases that are discussed across the world wide blog.

My perception of Twitter is based upon very little experience. This perception included the idea that it was primarily a tool for connecting groups of folks via SMS. I’ve played with it bit, but for the majority of the folks I know they had no interest in using it as a communication tool. Which means I have no personal use for it. The idea of their third party API has caught my attention from time to time for use in various projects, but that still hadn’t peaked my interest for long term use. So the fascination with it that folks have baffles me.

Turns out that people are using it to pass all kinds of data, which goes well beyond what my original expectations for use of the service. There are apps like Thwirl that help you aggregate your information to the various services that are based off twitter. And there are a number of different clone offering their own variety of functionality to beat twitter at it’s own game.

So after all of that, I came to a simple question: Is Twitter really that important? I can understand how from a user’s perspective, they could come to depend on a service that allows you to instantly broadcast your thoughts (some call it micro blogging). Twitter gives you the opportunity to do it on a greater scale and benefits from the ability to allow you to connect to individuals at the same time. But didn’t IRC already solve some of this? Or AIM to some degree? Hell, blogging could qualify for the solutions category. There are so many ways to solve all or some subset of these problems using existing tools. So I asked again, is twitter really that important?

Then it occurred to me. Twitter solved the access medium problem. When they launched, they provided you with the ability to communicate between the cellphone and the computer. If your on the phone, you can stay connected via SMS. On the desktop, you had the web interface. Don’t want to be bothered refreshing or logging into a page, use your instant message client. But you’ll still get the messages from the folks in the field. With their published API, sky’s the limit.

So the answer is clear: yes, twitter as an approach to communication as a medium is important. But is that the same as Twitter the service being important? From all the reports in the wild, Twitter the service keeps failing in the face its growing usage. Steve Gilmour’s post discusses in detail one example of how the service has become depended upon for up to the second data during an event. In the same week, we get a different scenario that again proves the usefulness of having this medium. And recently, there was the story of the journalism student’s arrest in Egypt who was able to get a message out and receive help because of it. So Twitter the service has become useful because it’s the primary venue for this new medium they’ve created.

So yes, I think twitter as the service is important. The service wouldn’t be so significant if it weren’t for the fact that it is so popular. With it’s competitors waiting to capitalize on their failures and some of the third party apps supporting multiple services, it’s Twitter’s game to lose at this point. What does that then mean for the future of the service and the future of this medium? No idea, but having had a look at the service and how people are using it has peaked my interest enough to give a try again.

You can now find me here playing with it. With the question of importance answered, there are a couple of others I’m interested to address. But I’ll follow up to this post after I’ve had the opportunity to play with it as a service more.


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