Twitter: The Next Small Thing for Business?


Brevity is the soul of wit, and a defining characteristic of the Twitter micromessaging system. It might work well for business communications, too.

Founded in March 2006 by San Francisco startup Obvious Corp., Twitter lets users send short messages, free, via SMS, IM, e-mail or the Twitter Web site. Entries are restricted to 140 characters maximum, or roughly the size of the opening paragraph of this article, and can be read by anyone subscribed to the sender’s account.

The microblogging service’s tagline–"What are you doing?"– describes a lot of its early uses. A quick scan of finds Twitterers offering comments from, "Back at work. Blah!," to "Just realized The All-American Rejects don’t have a bass player." Informative, to be sure, but can Twitter do more than keep friends in the loop?

Co-founder Biz Stone says Twitter was not intended for businesses, but possible uses have emerged. "Twitter works well for distributed teams and in-conference environments," he says. "We’re keeping an eye on user behavior so we can learn more and grow the service where it makes sense." Twitter could compliment existing tools, if not replace them. "There are plenty of tools for getting work done that are more sophisticated than Twitter," Stone acknowledges. "For collaborative documenting, a wiki is certainly a smart choice and for an actual,synchronous conversation, I’d recommend IM or a phone call."

But almost any organization could find value in a platform-independent group-messaging service, for routine communications and emergencies. In fact, Twitter’s cross-platform groupcasting aspect may be more valuable than the brevity of its messages (Another new product, Pownce, combines Twitters groupcasting functionality with more robust content- sharing abilities).

During an event like JetBlue’s Valentine’s Day disaster, for example, passengers and staff using a multitude of devices could benefit from quick messages informing them of shift changes, flight delays and cancellations. Financial services and health-care firms could use Twitterlike services to instantly notify customers of a hacker attack or data loss where sensitive information could have been revealed, and so on.

Dave Winer, a developer who helped pioneer RSS (Real Simple Syndication), XML-RPC (the standard that evolved into SOAP) and other Web 2.0 technologies, sees even broader potential in Twitter. He points out a parallel between some of the early criticisms of the service and the early knocks on blogs; in April he wrote at his site, Scripting News (, "When I develop something new these days, I automatically think of using Twitter as a back-end to connect users. …

"If other developers aren’t doing this, I imagine they will be soon."

In late July, Winer wrote that Twitter is, at its core, about "users and relationships between users, their ideas, and an ecosystem. It’s probably the basis for some pretty hot apps. "Will it be possible to monetize them?" he adds. "Without a doubt."

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