Why Twitter will change the way business communicates

October 30, 2007

By: Robert Scoble

Hard to believe that only 10 or 15 years ago we interacted with coworkers and colleagues with memos and phone calls. Email and instant messaging changed all that. Now there’s a new communications revolution coming. These services mix contacts, instant messaging, blogging, and texting, and they’re poised to make email feel as antiquated as the mimeograph.

The best known of the new services is Twitter. Since its debut last spring, it has been one of the fastest-growing apps in the history of the Internet. The best way to describe it is as a microblog service in which you tell people what you’re doing or thinking at any given moment. The hook is that you’re limited to 140 characters. “It’s strangely addictive,” says NBC videographer Jim Long. “Evidently, people are interested in what I’m doing, and I genuinely care about what they’re doing.”

Twitter’s basic idea has proven so popular that others have copied its premise and added features. Jaiku lets me include blog posts, my link blog, and more along with my mini posts. Pownce users can send files to one another, as well as calendar events. At Facebook, I can add such information as my favorite music and the syndicated Web feeds I’ve shared in Google Reader.

All this adds up to a new way to share information about yourself. Although the content of the messages can vary wildly from voyeuristically interesting to terribly dull, a frequent stream of updates can strengthen your brand. My 4,000-plus Twitter “followers” can get my blasts online or via text message, and each one is also its own Web page, which means that Google can see it and let people search for it. When you’re traveling frequently and working from coffeehouses or the backseat of a cab, these services are great to keep in touch with coworkers back at the office and with customers nearby. “I post where I travel and arrange user meetups,” says Betsy Weber, an evangelist with software firm TechSmith.

The professional intimacy these services create–hey, if you know someone’s whereabouts and musical tastes, you’re halfway home–can also win you clients. “People won’t do business with you until they like you or have a sense of trust,” says Cathryn Hrudicka, a consultant who uses Facebook, Jaiku, and Twitter. She has already gotten referrals from people she has met online because she has shown she’ll be available when clients need her.

Sales and marketing are lagging in seeing the potential here. When I used all these services to tell the world that my wife and I were expecting a child in September, I anticipated hearing from the world’s largest consumer-products companies begging me to try their latest diapers, food, car seats, and financial instruments. What came back? Nothing. Where was Procter & Gamble? Given what it and other companies spend acquiring new customers, there’s an untapped gold mine in Twitter and Facebook because we’re volunteering so much information about what we’re doing right now, whether it’s working on a project or eating a chicken-salad sandwich. Learning how to tap it correctly–both to sell to me directly and in seeing major trends in the millions of daily public posts–will be the next major challenge for these companies.

If we revisit this conversation again in three years, I suspect that we’ll have found all sorts of little uses for these services, and they’ll simply become what email is today: something we must do just to participate in the heartbeat of business.

Source:


The Best Tools for Social Microblogging

October 22, 2007

At some point, it became clear that blogs just weren’t cutting it for some social-networking addicts. Connect-o-philes across the globe couldn’t be satiated just telling you what they were thinking or doing in a few (or even many) blog posts a day. They had to let you know what they were doing right now! Overnight Internet celebrity Twitter stepped in to fill this desperate need in October 2006. The “social networking and microblogging” site, which lets you read quick takes (up to 140 characters) both fascinating and mundane, such as, “ate a piece of cherry pie for dessert” or “I just had a great workout,” has spawned a crop of imitators that add new capabilities to the original concept.

Many of my colleagues trash-talk these sites because of the triviality of the sorts of stream-of-consciousness posts mentioned above, but there are benefits to be reaped from sites like Twitter. First, private group lists let you alert your friends and coworkers about what you’re doing, and you can see their activities—which may actually be of interest to you. Second, you can get good ideas on sites to visit, stuff to buy, or activities you’d enjoy doing yourself by seeing what the savvy, connected users of these services are up to. For example, on one such site, Jaiku, I found this link to a YouTube video of an incredible project: Building the Liverpool Philharmonic in Second Life, complete with orchestral music. Third, they satisfy our natural human voyeurism: Admit it, who doesn’t like occasionally peeking into others’ lives? Finally, some of these instant-post blogs have served more critical purposes, such as helping reporters communicate breaking news to their organizations. And at least one fire department has used Twitter to alert fellow firefighters about the onset of emergencies.

Here I round up five social microblogging sites, including the archetypal Twitter itself. There are a lot more of these things than those I’ve included, but I selected those that add unique twists to the basic concept of jotting down short ponderings. The category is still in its infancy, and it shows: None of these passes muster yet for designation as a PC Magazine Editors’ Choice.

Pownce adds some nifty file-, video-, and appointment-sharing features, while Yappd adds pictures. Jaiku has some cool mobile-phone location capabilities, but those only work with a very limited number of phone models. Tumblr is a somewhat different sort of beast, falling somewhere between the true microblogs and their fuller-featured forefathers, blogging services like LiveJournal and WordPress.

These services do make some sense as communication tools—giving you the ability to send an update to a Web page via your cell phone. Another of their purposes is that they offer notifications—via e-mail or cell phone. I can’t see that it makes much sense for one person to send a Twitter post using his phone and then another to be notified by a text message on her phone. Why the middleman? Just send a direct text. Text messaging would, however, make sense if a group was involved.

Another drawback is that messages may appear in any language and different alphabets; it would be nice if you could limit them to tongues you understand. And these sites don’t have a moderated option, that is, they don’t offer a way for an actual human to filter out the junk and just display comments of value. This would take away the immediacy that’s a key part of the phenomenon, so maybe there’s an opportunity for an offshoot social-wisdom category of sites. Another feature I might suggest adding to these sites is a number showing how many users are online—so that exhibitionists know how many people are watching.

One caveat about using Twitter and its ilk: Don’t post your location or contact info on the public message area. You don’t need to give potential stalkers an edge. Read on to see what Twitter can offer you—and whether its challengers will give you even more microblogging goodness. Note that this isn’t every player in the space; it’s just the ones that look the most interesting at the moment. As always, click on the links below to read the full reviews.

Twitter

The alpha dog of microblogs, Twitter has inspired a cottage industry of helper apps and has the largest following of these sites. It’s not the most powerful, best designed, or intuitive to use, but it’s the one people know.

Yappd (beta)

This new arrival is a good-looking Twitter clone that adds the ability to upload pictures for your postlets and lets readers easily add comments.

Pownce

More feature-rich than other microblogs, Pownce also has comments. On top of that it adds the ability to share files and events, and integrates nicely with video and picture-sharing sites. But Pownce won’t let you blurt out your message on a public timeline, though your own page is visible to all on the Web.

Jaiku

Like Yappd, Jaiku is a pretty straightforward clone of Twitter, though its design is slicker. It adds a comment feature, RSS feeds, and some location-based mobile features available only to a limited group of phones. Posts also have the smallest limit of any of these sites: 100 characters.

Tumblr

This one’s a bit of a different animal from the others in this roundup. It’s more of a “miniblog” than a microblog—a lighter-weight version of LiveJournal and its ilk rather than an expanded version of Twitter. There’s no public timeline, though you can post from a mobile device with e-mail capability. Posting is easier than with a full-fledged blog tool, but you don’t get quite as much customization. If you want something approaching a blog but don’t want to go through the setup, Tumblr’s a good bet.

Source: PC Magazine


Tumblr – Reviewed by PC Magazine

October 22, 2007

Situated somewhere between super-lightweight microblogging sites like Twitter and full-fledged blogging services like Vox, Tumblr gives you a very easy way to disseminate your thoughts, links, pictures, and videos quickly and in a pleasing format.

Good-looking, clean, easy-to-use interface. Prebuilt page themes. Mobile posting aannd viewing. Support for video and several types of feeds.

Help could be better. No comment feature.

More of a “miniblog” than a microblog, Tumblr offers some of the instant gratification of Twitter and some of the richer formatting and media capabilities available in standard blogging services such as Blogger, LiveJournal, or Vox. Tumblr goes deeper than true microblog sites, adding richer goodies such as photos, video support, and feeds. With it you can create a “tumblelog,” which the company describes this way: “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.” These are usually full of prominently dated posts that are short on text and long on clipped pictures, video, quotations, and other Web artifacts. The archetypal example is Projectionist.

Tumblr combines the quick Web-posting and mobile-posting capabilities of Twitter with standard blog features such as a choice of page themes, rich-text formatting, and your own URL. Entries get their own pages, but they’re not longer than the post on the main page. These pages don’t have the comment capability you’d find on a fuller-fledged blogging service, so, if you’re looking for validation in the form of feedback, this isn’t the service for you. Unlike most microblogs, Tumblr doesn’t have a page dedicated to public posts, and the posting entry box isn’t on the same page as the entries themselves. I don’t think these are actually shortcomings, as the service’s aim is different from that of blogs and microblogs—but if you’re accustomed to those features, the lack may feel a bit odd at first.

To get Tumbling, just fill in the site’s simple sign-up. All you need is an e-mail address (which will be your account name), a password, and a title for your Tumblr Web address (as in title.tumblr.com). You’ll do most of your posting from the Dashboard, where there are options for Text, Photo, Quote, Link, Chat, and Video. Don’t be fooled by the Chat button—it’s just a text entry where you’re supposed to paste text from a chat dialog you had or saw: The post will be formatted to look like a conversation.

 

Are you ready to Tumbl?

Probably the most common type of entry is the text post. Tumblr’s simple WYSIWYG interface lets you do basic formatting (bold, italics, lists) and add images to the post. There’s also a spell-checker and an HTML code viewer. Though the site’s design doesn’t lend itself to very long posts, there’s no specific limit on length. After you’ve created the post, you can easily delete or edit it, and you can ascertain its direct URL with tools that appear to the right of each entry in your Dashboard.

Adding a photo post is a simple matter of browsing for the file on your hard drive or entering a hyperlink to an image. You have the option of adding a caption, which is done in the same edit box used for text posts. You even have the odd option of inserting an image into your image caption. I prefer the way Pownce handles links to Flickr images, creating a large thumbnail image and linking to the full-size image on the photo hosting site.

You can add videos found on sites like YouTube or DailyMotion to your tumblelog from the Add a Video page by entering the video’s URL or embed tag and an optional caption. The videos will be playable right from your tumblelog. This works with just about any video-sharing site, but you can’t upload your own movies directly to Tumblr. The Quote entry option merely gives you two text boxes, one for the quotation and another for the source, and formats the post appropriately based on your theme choice.

Along with regular RSS, there are ten tailored feed types you can add to your tumblelog, including Flickr, Last.fm and YouTube. For these, it’s just a matter of entering the username for the feed you want. I had no problem adding feeds from Twitter, Last.fm, and RSS. Since Tumblr can output an RSS feed from your entries, I wondered what would happen if I subscribed the tumblelog to its own feed. The service wasn’t biting, however, in my quest to generate an infinite loop of RSS. You should probably go easy on adding feeds, anyhow; remember, this service is supposed to be letting people know about your thoughts and activities.

Tumblr resembles Twitter and its ilk in providing the concept of a “following,” which users can sign up for to keep track of your posts. You’d really only want to use Tumblr for posts intended for the public, as there’s no way to designate your tumblelog as private, to be shared only among those you’ve selected—an option Pownce, Jaiku, and even Twitter offer. If you’re logged into Tumblr, other tumblelogs will display an “Add to friends” icon; if you click this, the friend’s icon will appear on your Dashboard but not on your actual page that’s visible to the rest of the Web. You can also opt to see your friends’ posts interspersed with your own on your Dashboard page. I would prefer that pages be able to display friends’ icons as a sort of blogroll so that you could let your readers know which tumblelogs you consider worth following.

 

Settings and Goodies

The Settings tab is where you can edit your tumblelog’s title, description, URL, and password, for starters. It’s also where you can upload your profile picture and choose one of the five prebuilt themes or enter your own custom CSS code. If you don’t want to get into the code, color pickers let you customize every page element.

You can choose whether you want to be promoted in the Tumblr directory, to “ping the blogosphere” or send it to Technorati and other blog aggregators every time you make an entry. These options give you a convenient way to drive traffic to your page.

On the Goodies tab, you’ll find four utilities offering more ways to post and view tumbles. A bookmarklet that you can drag to your browser’s toolbar lets you post content from the page you happen to be browsing to your tumblelog. It’s pretty clever about telling what kind of post is appropriate—link, video, photo, and so on.

Next, two mobile helpers: One lets you post text and photos from a phone using an e-mail address, and the other is simply the mobile-friendly URL for viewing your tumblelog on a phone browser. The e-mail address works from your regular e-mail account as well as from a phone, but the post won’t get a title. Finally, Mac users have the option of downloading the Tumblet Dashboard Widget. This is pretty basic, and doesn’t identify a post as, for example, a video, so it unfortunately won’t display the player.

Tumblr will make a lot of sense for many people who want to share Web content. It’s an example of a good idea well executed. Occupying the space between full blogging services and microblogging sites like Twitter, Tumblr offers an easy way to get your messages and images out on the Web without the hassle of setting up a standard blog. This innovative service combines a lot of power and features in an extremely easy and intuitive user interface.

Source: PC Magazine