When I first came across Twitter, I thought, "What the heck is the point of that?". Later, I came to see the value of it for at least one specific purpose: following the movements of my preferred candidate for mayor of London. Recently, I've found myself using it more and more. Why is this?
I think there are are a number of reasons why Twitter hits the spot in a way that no other social software tool does. Firstly, it is simple. You post, you follow people, and people follow you. Not difficult, that. Secondly, despite this simplicity, it succeeds in blending together the features of a number of other types of tool. This makes it either the best of a number of worlds or a decent compromise, depending on your point of view. The first of these features is the 'friends' concept of Facebook and LinkedIn, but with a twist. Whereas in the former social networks a relationship cannot exist unless it is reciprocated, on Twitter it can be one way. This, for me, 'lowers the bar' when it comes to deciding whom to follow, whom (if anyone) to block, and if/when to de-follow somebody. None of this feels as personal and therefore possibly hurtful as it would on Facebook or LinkedIn. And the consequence is better 'liquidity' of contacts. There need be no stale ones.
The way contacts work on Twitter also makes it easy to select the people you want to follow - by seeing who the people that you follow, or might wish to follow, follow. This is possible on Facebook and LinkedIn, at least to some extent, too. But that reciprocation thing gets in the way.
The second feature is the threads concept of forums. However, whereas in forums, threads are very central to the way a forum works, in Twitter they are very weak. The only way a thread manifests itself is as an @ reply, which links a response to an original comment. At least I think this is the case - any Twitterers reading this who know otherwise, please correct me. De-emphasising threads is arguably no bad thing. At least it prevents the sort of rambles/flames/rants that can spoil the debate on forums.
The third feature is the blogging concept. Or, in Twitter's case microblogging. It's blogging because it's relatively standalone - the blogger on his or her soapbox. But it's different because of the limitation in length of post - 140 characters or 15-20 words. Despite the fact that it's possible to cheat by breaking up a long post into 140 character chunks, this length limitation in practice works to make authors be concise and be interesting - particularly as they would not wish their adoring followers to desert them.
And now for Twitter's pièce de résistance: intimacy with celebrities (as it were). I do not know if this is merely a function of Twitter's newness, or if it will endure. But at the moment it really does feel that if you follow a celebrity Twitterer you are getting a more intimate view of their life than you ever would through other media. Personally, at the moment I'm following Lance Armstrong, John Cleese and Stephen Fry. There are many aspects of celebrity, and the way the broadcast media handle it, that I usually hate. Somehow Twitter turns celebrities back into normal people again. The posts I've seen seem totally authentic, you know they aren't getting paid to do it, and there's always the tantalising thought that you might get an @ reply to one of your comments.
Finally, I think Twitter would be a very good tool for the enterprise. It could either be within the firewall (I think Yammer is an enterprise Twitter-like product for this) or Twitter itself could be used, probably with certain precautions. It could be used to let colleagues know where each other is and what they are doing, but also to create the 'loose ties' of people in different departments or locations that have so much potential for mutual help.
I have converted from Twitter sceptic to Twitter fan. How about you?