To Twitter... or not to Twitter. You know the rest.

I have to be honest... When Twitter was first released and the hype was deafening, I was among the skeptics who questioned the point of the service -- why would I want to constantly update the world on 'my thoughts'? Where I am? What I'm doing, eating, thinking, saying, wondering... or worse? Who would want to read that? And why would I want to read those types of updates from others?

The fact that there was so much emphasis on using SMS/text messages for everything only added to my skepticism. I'm getting these updates on my phone? I only have 140 characters to use?

So I stayed away and chalked it up as one of those "silly web 2.0 fads" that gets announced, hyped, and then drops off the radar while still in perma-beta mode.

Recently, though, a few different things got me to take a look and (finally) create an account:

  • A few services I'm using have Twitter "Bots" that I can use to communicate with the service. "Remember the Milk," for example, lets me use Twitter to add things to my task list. The "I Want Sandy" service lets me use Twitter to set reminders for some point in the future. This type of service automation has been around via IM for a while, but the user experience through Twitter seems better to me.
  • The authors of several blogs I subscribe to have begun putting links to their Twitter streams in their blog templates and sidebars. Maybe they've been there for a while and I'm just now noticing them? In any case, I see subscribing to a blogger's Twitter stream in the same way as subscribing to their del.icio.us bookmarks. If I enjoy reading their blog posts, it stands to reason that I might enjoy their "smaller" thoughts (via Twitter) and the bookmarks they're creating (via del.icio.us). The benefits here are more passive -- I can drop in, read what I like, and then move on -- but they're benefits nonetheless.
  • My team at work is distributed between Colorado and Tennessee. In addition, we have a fairly flexible environment that allows for telecommuting when necessary (snow days, waiting for the cable guy, and general "life happens" stuff). We use IM and email pretty heavily, but have found that those don't always work well for certain scenarios. Specifically, there are times when we'd like to have some ad hoc group communication. People thinking out loud, asking general questions of the group, or even coordinating around things like issue tracking items, builds, and more. In these cases, IM is a bit too "point to point" because those conversations often turn into "let's email the group and get some more input". Email isn't great because of the latency between arrival, reading, replying, and sending... during which people start to reply on top of one another. It's great for many things... but sometimes you just need a "chat room" for the in-between stuff that happens all day.

    So I thought Twitter might be useful for this and created an account... it's easy to use and that ad hoc "one-to-many" style of communicating updates and status is its strong suit. I discovered later that the downside of this is that there's a lot of other noise going on as well -- so unless I subscribe ONLY to my team members' Twitter streams, I'm sifting through other people's updates to get the ones that are work-related. For now, we're going with Campfire from 37Signals and it seems to be working well. Kinda like "private Twitter with file attachments"...

So with these thoughts in mind, I've been giving it a shot and posting occasional status updates. I'm not yet totally convinced - but neither am I as skeptical as I once was. And while the value's not there for work-related team communications (the original point of the exercise), I definitely think the "bot" services are useful and I've enjoyed seeing the updates from others whose blogs I follow...

In using it for a week or two now, I've been "following" (in Twitter's parlance) a few streams that are really worthwhile. One of those is Merlin Mann, the guy behind the 43 Folders productivity site... his Twitter stream seems to be used for stream-of-consciousness thoughts he has throughout the day. And they're usually hilarious... You know how most people have that filter that stops them from saying all the hilarious/cynical/disturbing/obscure things that come to mind throughout the day? I think Merlin just piped his filter to his Twitter stream. One example, recently posted as I type this on Super Bowl Sunday, demonstrates his ability to turn a phrase [say it in the voice of an NFL player]:

"I'm just so humbled that my freakish physique and tolerance for head trauma can be leveraged to sell lite beer. I also wanna thank 'God.'"

In addition to bloggers, I've found other types of streams to be worthwhile - including New York Times (which streams headlines throughout the day as news articles are posted), Woot (which publishes the daily Woot bargain), and TechMeme (which tracks hot topics in tech news).

There's a pretty good "fan wiki" going that provides some other ideas for using the service, including collections of Twitter mashups, "Non Human" streams, organizations, weather for various cities, and even airport status (e.g., Chicago O'Hare)!

So... for now I'm sticking it out to see how it goes. Time will tell whether the value I'm getting now lasts or if it's just short-term novelty.

Who knows... maybe in another 12-18 months, I'll look into this whole Facebook thing. ;-)