Twitter’s Cosmic Powers

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I originally wrote this article for Connect Magazine’s December 2008 issue.

It’s been said that brevity is the soul of wit; it is also the soul of Twitter.

Twitter is the world’s most popular tool for “micro-blogging.” Every day, millions of people use Twitter to answer the question, “What are you doing right now?” As soon as they post a “tweet,” everyone who follows them can see what they are doing right now. It’s similar to updating your status in Facebook.

It’s called micro-blogging because you only have 140 characters per tweet. But you can pack a lot of info into 140 characters. Like Genie said to Jafar in the movie “Aladdin,” “Phenomenal cosmic powers … itty-bitty living space!”

Many people think Twitter is silly or a waste of time. But most of the people that I follow on Twitter are not posting what they just had for lunch or what they are watching on TV. Instead, they are smart people answering the question, “What did I just learn, read or think that is important to share?”

I don’t follow people on Twitter that post inane comments. But I do follow dozens of venture capitalists, employees at Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Web 2.0 startup companies and even a congressman from Texas. By carefully selecting whom I follow on Twitter, I have chosen to tap into an information stream, a constant flow of ideas and links from hundreds of the smartest (and most vocal) people on earth.

Twitter recently passed Google Reader (with my carefully selected blogs) as my most important source of business information. Partly because of their brevity I can consume so many tweets quickly.

The keys to success with Twitter are: 1) Getting the right client software and, 2) Selecting the right people to follow.

I use Twitterific software on my iPhone and Twitterberry on my Blackberry. And of course, Twitter on the desktop.

From Twitter I learn about things going on in Silicon Valley and New York and elsewhere that people I follow are planning to attend. Last month I learned about a social advertising summit in New York City, and within a day was signed up for it. This event was crucial in shaping our current business strategy.

Twitter, which raised $15 million in venture capital in May, recently purchased a search engine that indexes the hundreds of millions of Twitter posts. It is a powerful way to find out what thousands of people are thinking about any topic.

And it’s not just about following the conversations; it’s about starting them as well.

If I post a tweet, the 300-plus people who follow me on Twitter can read it. But it also automatically updates my Facebook status, so my 800-plus Facebook friends can see it as well. Some people using Twitter have tens of thousands of followers. If they link to a Web site or make a comment or break a news story, imagine how quickly the news can spread.

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/paulballen.

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