The buzz around Twitter is hot. No surprise: it's an interesting new thing that appeals to a key group of hyper-connected people, and they're using it and talking about it.
But, as is often the case when people love something because it's fun and interesting, everyone starts feeling compelled to explain why it's important and useful (instead of just fun). And it's getting a little embarrassing. These "great uses of Twitter" lists reek of desperation; mostly , they explain how you can use Twitter to make ordinary things more complicated and intrusive by utilizing a technology that will reach 0.5% of your audience.
Questions from the audience. A speaker is talking on stage. Something she says triggers a question. But you have to wait 30 minutes until Q&A. By then the topic may have lost its relevancy. But what if she has Twitter enabled for the discussion? She'll be able see your (non-interruptive) question pop up right away, and decide if she can answer it at that time.
I just have to go Miss Manners on you; if you have bothered to attend a speech or lecture, please put your phone down and pay attention. Or leave.
As for the speaker, I expect that she will be focused on giving the lecture or speech, not watching Twitter for questions. Even as I enter middle age, my short-term memory still functions well enough to remember my question twenty minutes later and raise my hand and ask it. (And if it's not relevant anymore then it probably wasn't terribly important.)
(A friend of mine has the ultimate low-tech solution for this problem on his fridge. It's a slip of paper that says, at the top, "Please write your question for Sir Arthur C. Clarke.")
Or this one:
Quick intraoffice memos. "Meet in the conference room in 5 minutes." "Can someone bring an extra extension cord?" "Check out this article..." In essence, these memos increase the amount of communication. They should only be used when absolutely necessary (don't go overboard), but they can sharpen your company's efficiency.
By creating a culture of distracted people who can't focus on anything for more than five minutes because they're watching Twitter feeds to find out who needs an extension cord? Guess what, folks? You need my attention now, you need to call me or walk up to me. I might not be looking at my email or IM or watching for Twitter messages.
The big efficiency challenge isn't getting more information, it's parsing what you've got.
Hailing taxi cabs. It's not always easy to track down a cab. And it seems even harder when you're in a hurry. But wait. If you know you're going to need a ride in 10 minutes, Twitter the taxi HQ in advance and they'll send one your way. All you have to do is give them an address and a time.
When I lived in DC I called for cabs regularly. By phone. Because unless the dispatcher said, "Okay, he'll be there in fifteen minutes," I knew that no cab was coming (and even then, maybe not). Besides, most of those calls required questions: "Which airport? Is that a house, apartment, or office? Will you be outside?"
Ordering at arenas. Having trouble finding the beer man at a baseball game? Just Twitter the vending area with your order. 2 Old Styles comin' right up!
Yeah, because the guy with the beer is going to be watching his handheld for a Twitter from row 47 instead of serving beers to the people nearby.
Okay, my point here is not to pick the list apart. I realize that I sound like some kind of Luddite who just hates new things. But you know what? I'm not. I tend to be an early adopter 0f these kinds of things. I'm more likely to use Twitter than 98% of the people out there.
But you've got to give me a reason. And if the reasons hasn't become clear yet - which I think is the case with Twitter - just stop talking and let people use it and see what emerges.
These is exactly one item on that list that makes perfect sense to me:
Just to have fun. Many a boisterous laugh has been shared via Twitter. It's a place where people can come together and just be themselves. Personalities shine through. People encourage each other. Jokes run wild and turn into memes. Friends can relax and peer into each other's lives. And a general feeling of camaraderie, compassion and respect flows freely from one person to the next.
Well, that's really cool. And that's enough reason to use it. Play with it, have fun with it, experiment with it, and one day somebody is really going to find the killer use of it that makes the rest of us say, "Now that's wicked cool."
But that's not going to happen in one of these "how to use Twitter instead of dental floss" lists. If anything, they make Twitter sound silly, and I just don't believe it's as silly as most of what I've read about it suggests.
So please, go play, go discover, and stop justifying.