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Thursday October 30, 2008

Twittering, like SMSing, is here to stay

It’s a simple web and mobile phone-based service that allows members to post very short postings, limited to 140 characters, that is smaller than the size of a single SMS.

I KNOW many people have heard the word Twitter but I know very few who actually Twitter. Facebook, it is not (at least not yet).

But Twitter is a growing force and news media organisations can make good use of it as part of their online media initiatives.

For sure, Twitter was not designed for business use but like blogging, it can be used for business purposes.

Actually, there are a lot of similarities between Twittering and blogging. You could say Twittering is micro-blogging.

It’s a simple web- and mobile phone-based service that allows members to post up very short postings. The postings are limited to 140 characters, which is just slightly smaller than the size of a single SMS.

It might seem challenging to post something meaningful within 140 characters.

But those who are used to Facebook – and which web-savvy person isn’t – would be familiar with posting updated notices about what they are doing at that particular point in time.

Such updates are easily within 140 characters. And that’s exactly what Twittering is all about. Short bursts of information about your activities or thoughts.

As with blogging, Twittering started off as an activity only the techno-geeks and hardcore social networkers engaged in.

And like blogging, eventually even non-techies started using it.

One early adopter, who is currently studying abroad, uses Twitter as an efficient and effective way to keep her boyfriend updated about what her day is like.

It’s not a big thing in Malaysia yet but then again, it did take some time before blogging became big here.

It’s already huge in the US and I think it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a craze here.

Ask active bloggers how they feel about their activity and they will tell you it’s addictive. So, is Twittering.

“It is now an important part of my work and social life, as I carry on bite-sized conversations with thousands of people around the world throughout the day,” says Michael Arrington of famed tech blog TechCrunch.

“It’s a huge marketing tool, and information tool. But it is also a social habit that’s hard to kick,” he said.

Arrington, one of the most popular Twittterer, has some 28,900 people following his Twitterstream, (http://twitter.com/TechCrunch)

Twitter’s appeal is simple. It’s incredibly simple to use. Just type what you want to inform your followers and click in the “Update” button. And that’s it. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

It’s been adopted by some businesses but the sector where Twitter can make a huge impact is news media.

In the US, Twitter was used extensively to provide live updated coverage of election-related events. The presidential debates, for example, were well-Twittered.

It’s just a twist on live-blogging except it’s much faster, it’s only text-based and it’s very ephemeral. Like blogging, the latest tweet (Twitter posting) appears on top.

If someone is a very active Twitterer, his postings will appear and disappear very fast as news postings push down older ones.

It’s sort of like live blogging on steroids.

With live blogging, new posts do appear in quick succession but not like in Twitter.

And the reason is obvious. Blog postings are usually much longer and quite often involve posting up graphics and pictures. Twitter, in contrast, is like SMSing.

So, it’s really good for people who like to follow an important event unfold. A presidential debate is a good example. So, is a sports event or a natural disaster.

It’s not so good as an archive of news though. And that’s mainly because its search engine is quite lousy. Perhaps Google should gobble it up and improve its search capabilities.

In the West, some reporters maintain blogs to complement their print media work. Typically, they post up stuff that don’t make it to print.

Twitter would be great for allowing their readers to keep up to date with their story development.

A beat reporter can start by Twittering about what story he’s going to cover and how he’s preparing for it. Through his mobile phone he can update his readers (who follow his tweets) on the story as it unfolds.

Finally, as he writes his story, he can let them know what he learned and give them a sense of what to expect when the story comes out the next day (assuming it’s a print story).

Twittering is not meant to replace blogging.

In fact, it can complement it. It’s a faster and shorter version of blogging. You could say it is to blogging what SMS is to e-mail. Just because you use SMS doesn’t mean you stop using e-mailing.

Twitter, like many Web 2.0 services isn’t making money yet. It has a huge following though and its membership is growing by leaps and bounds.

Some people have suggested that advertising is the way to go but neither Facebook nor YouTube – other tremendously popular but not profitable Web 2.0 companies – has had huge success monetising its services through online ads.

Charging for premium services is another way but it’s very old school and the prevailing culture of free services on the Internet makes it a difficult business model to pursue.

More likely than not, what will happen is that like many Web 2.0 companies, it will get bought up by a big player like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo!

Whatever is the case, Twitter is here to stay. Journalists and bloggers would do well to start Twittering away.

Oon Yeoh blogs and Twitters. You can reach him at www.oonyeoh.com.

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