So debate continues about Twitter. Is it great? Is it awful? Is it a chat tool? Is it a status updater and damn it you chatters are ruining it for everyone? :)

I've come to the conclusion that ultimately it's not really the format that really gets people hooked. Twitter doesn't do anything that we couldn't already do. We already have chat, we already have blogs, we already have post-by-SMS and so forth. sure, Twitter rolls it into a neat package but I don't think that's the key factor.

Personally I think the real reason that people love Twitter so much - the Killer App if you will - is that it's ubiquitous. Twitter pretty much goes wherever you want it to go.

If you're on the web, you can be on Twitter. If you're signed into IM, you can be on Twitter. If you've got your phone in your pocket, you can be on Twitter... ok, you get the point! Twitter followed us home and we want to keep it.


So what Twitter really does is puts your (Twitter-)friends within easy reach. You can always let them know what you're doing. You can always hear from them. If you're travelling, you can read about the little moments of important people back home. If you find yourself walking home unexpectedly, you can tweet about it.

You don't have to have ground-shaking news. You don't really have to have any justification, Twitter doesn't demand formality or deep and meaningful thoughts. Twitter is basically like hanging out with a big group of friends. You can wander in and out and nobody minds; but they're happy to see you when you are there. You can be pretty sure someone's always around.


I had to mention it. I think Twitter feeds into Mark Pesce's concept of youbiquity. It can provide a timeline - some people tweet when they post a blog article or a particularly interesting photo on Flickr. Twitter can also fill in the gaps on services like Jaiku which attempt to track your 'presence stream'. Blogs, bookmarks and photos still feel a bit disconnected... but twitter adds a certain je ne sais quoi and the sensation that you really are seeing a picture of what you've been up to online.

ubiquitous or intrusive?

If it starts getting intrusive, you can close the window/app, or text OFF... and that's it. It'll leave you alone until you feel like dropping back in. Whether we have that willpower is not really Twitter's fault, nor is it unique - we don't close our email down much either, and emails usually take a lot longer to read than a tweet.

So, sure... it can be just as intrusive as any of the communications channels it uses. Mobiles, web and IM can all be intrusive. That's not new to Twitter either :)

the medium is not the message

...but the medium shapes the message. I write longer text messages via USB (ie. on a proper keyboard) than direct on my mobile's keypad. There's no reason to expect anything different when I post to Twitter.

Khoi Vinh observes that the different interfaces subtly encourage different writing styles - that the input mode changes content. I do believe that people using mobiles will post less and be more focussed on 'what am I doing?' tweets than people using the web or IM interface. After all, they're out and about doing it.


So there's another theory: Twitter's addictive quality is ubiquity. It uses technology which is mundane in our worlds, but it achieves a sort of magic. We can stay connected even when the computer is off. We can post by mobile and friends get it via chat.

Twitter pulls together three of the most successful communications methods of the modern world. Then it's interested in what you're doing. Then it tells your friends.

Go-anywhere technology that connects people. No wonder it's popular!

n minutes ago from web... ;)