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Real World Uses of Twitter and Other Twitterbits

Amanda MacArthur has a very interesting list at Mashable of some of the ways that Twitter can be applied usefully in the real world. The list is repeated here, sans details:

  1. Saving You a AAA Membership
  2. Getting First-Hand Reviews
  3. Receiving Advanced Traffic Warnings
  4. Making Travel Buddies
  5. Getting the REAL Weather
  6. Becoming a Super Stalker
  7. Making New Gaming Friends
  8. Receiving Better Customer Service
  9. Becoming More Social

While it is a completely legitimate list, I doubt that the average Twitter user is going to get any of these uses out of it. (For example, I’ve honestly found far more social interaction on Plurk and Facebook with far fewer fans/ followers/ friends, in both cases, than on Twitter.) To benefit the way she’s suggesting, there are a few conditions:

  1. You need to have a fairly large following. Even Maki of DoshDosh.com, who has a large Twitter following, has previously implied on Plurk.com that he sometimes gets little response to his Twitter polls. Maybe that’s not quite the same as merely asking a question, but it points out that if more people are not using Twitter in the above ways then it might be difficult for you to, if you’re not yet a popular Twitterer.
  2. You need to be active on Twitter. It’s not the same as a web feed that people are subscribing to. A feed reader gives you the choice of a river of news (aggregation of headlines of all subscription feeds) or separate lists per site. Twitter gives you a single river.

So if you ask a question right now but your “best friend” on Twitter doesn’t sign in until two hours from now, they may never see your question. Retweeting your own tweet once in a while might be fine, but if you have to do it all the time, you’re probably going to lose all the people who follow you and are very active on Twitter. They’ll get tired of seeing the same thing over and over. (If you’re auto-updating your Facebook Wall status with your Twitter tweets, then you’ll also annoy your Facebook friends.)

The potential is there for Twitter to be very useful to a lot of people, but in its current state it suffers from the network effect. And since Twitter use means that everyone has to build their own network, Twitter is not valuable “out of the box.” It needs tweeks and mashups and special clients.

A number of the advanced Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck go a step further towards easier consumption of Twitter streams. However, there needs to be more customization features to really make Twitter as useful as suggested in the Mashable list above. The drawback is that Twitter can’t handle the server load, were someone to come with an “ultimate” Twitter client. Though us Twitter lovers are grateful for the service, there are still a number of improvements that Twitter needs to be even more useful. (So for now, a lot of bloggers, at least, are using Twitter to build blog traffic and the odd bit of socializing.)

Other Useful Twitter Uses and Hacks

If you want to use Twitter in more valuable ways, there are a number of options.

  1. Thread tweets. For example, if you’re running a WordPress blog, you use FairyFish’s Thread Twitter plugin to organize related tweets in a threaded manner, similar to forums, some email clients and even some blog comments.
  2. Microblogs. Check out ThinkVitamin’s tutorial on how you can create a multi-person microblog using Twitter, hashtags and Twitter RSS feeds. If the Twitter hashtag is being used properly, then all you’re doing is searching for instances of its use and pulling those tweets into your microblog. As ThinkVitamin points out, you can embed this micro-blog into any web page running PHP. You don’t need a blog platform.
  3. Website integration. Nettuts discusses 10 ways to integrate Twitter into your website, including widgets, buttons, and more.
  4. Other apps and services. Woork provides a list of over 30 Twitter services and apps that you might find interesting in making Twitter more useful to you.