Understanding Twitter

About a year ago, I wrote a post titled “Twitter is something you’ll never understand, so stop trying”.

That post was written in both a little jest and a little frustration in response to what I thought was the irony of people (including me) posting long explanations of something that merely allows one to broadcast or monitor messages of less than 140 characters in length. Writing articles about “what is Twitter” seemed to me as senseless as writing articles about “what is a blank sheet of paper.” (A year later, entire books about Twitter are being published.)

Here was my summary paragraph in that post:

“Like the Internet itself, Twitter is hard to explain because it doesn’t really have a point. And it has too many points. Here’s what I mean: All it does is provide a common-place to relay short messages to a group of people who agree to receive your messages. Here’s the second part of what i mean: When you stop thinking those short messages aren’t limited to “I’m about to get on the elevator” but can be eye-witness accounts of breaking news stories or bursts of business-critical intelligence, or warnings that a gun-man is loose on campus, or shared conversations about political debates you and your friends are watching on TV, the possibilities of what can be done using Twitter becomes amazingly confusing — I think in a good way. It’s easy to understand something when you think it’s limited to Prince Albert in a can prank calls. It’s more difficult to understand when you start imagining the ways something that’s today more toy than tool can be used to create new models of communication, conversation and community. It’s even more difficult to imagine that something called Twitter will morph into a serious business platform — or that it will one day save lives. But it will.”

Fast-foward a year: Those of us who daily observe (obsessively) the adoption of social media are already wondering when it will no longer be news that eyewitnesses and participants in news-events use Twitter to provide real-time messages and photos of what they are witnessing.

But a year later, the premise of my earlier post still holds: If you try to start trying to “understand” Twitter or worse, try to explain Twitter, you’ll fail. But that won’t stop me and others, I’m sure.

This morning, Fred Wilson, (a VC who sits on the board of Twitter) captures what I think is most important for people to realize about Twitter when he writes, “Twitter has never been about technology…Twitter, like all social media, is about the people who use it.”

Sidenotes: Despite my admission that Twitter can’t be explained, at Hammock Inc., we’re in the process of soft-launching a new blog called Conversational Media that already has several posts that attempt to explain it for corporate and association marketers. Also, I noticed this morning that I’ve been designated as “#48” on a list called the “Twitter Power 150” of marketing-related Twitter users. (Of course, I think all such lists are crazy except the ones I’m listed on them.) And finally, you can follow me on Twitter at the easy-to-remember username, R.