Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tweeting the future

When the telephone was invented, no one really knew what to do with it. It was thought that it might be a great way to broadcast useful information, and perhaps, music. The thought of one person talking to another was not even considered a possibility. There were sensible reasons (also known as prejudices) for that, of course. Speaking to someone without first having been properly introduced was considered poor form, as was talking to people below you on the social pecking order. Such unfortunate events were frighteningly possible if the telephone was unleashed. However, The People stepped in and everything changed. Before long, the telephone found its true purpose: making connections.

Technologies often take a while to find their feet. The Internet, which was started to protect military information from attack, is now a worldwide network connecting billions of people. The phone is transforming, through mobility, into a powerful life support center – communications, organization, name it, the mobile phone can do it. So what’s going to happen to Twitter? This remarkable phenomenon born out of the status bar on Facebook (now called 'What’s on Your Mind?') sends millions of short (less than 140 characters, and that includes spaces and punctuation) messages each day. Something about the Twitter format has proved irresistible to us. Like texting, it keeps you in the flow. You don’t have to make a lot of effort, and you can truly reach out and touch somebody.

Now businesses are becoming tweet-friendly. I’ve heard that the attendance at some meetings have been slashed (that’s got to be a good thing) with a small core team meeting and tweeting about what’s happening. Good-bye meetings for catch-up, background, or holding territory. Maybe Twitter is the ideal form for Winning Ugly – fast, focused, and functional.

Last week, I visited a site that provided a glimpse into another possible future for Twitter. Open Brands calls itself a social brand monitor. By combing through the globe’s tweets, it finds and gathers comments on specific brands. What you get is a real time look into what people are thinking about a brand, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. If you want to know what people are thinking about Oprah after a particular show, just scroll through the tweets. I was riveted by the Toyota tweets. It was like dipping into a stream of authentic engagement with a mix of commentary, opinion, pointers to interesting articles, and responses to other tweets. Fascinating. It felt like people were inventing the future.