The last few days have seen the members of the ILS Team (and a few others at the College) experiment with Twitter as a communication tool. According to their website;
"Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called "tweets" of 140 characters or fewer. These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search."
Learning how to tweet
which is pretty straightforward and indeed Twitter is very easy to sign-up to and use. The tricky part is working out what it's actually for. What communication gap has it been developed to fill? It's voyeuristically entertaining to hear what Stephen Fry had for breakfast http://twitter.com/stephenfry or to find out what's going on at the Jodrell Bank http://twitter.com/jodrellbank observatory, but what advantage does Twitter provide over email, blogs or social networking sites like mySpace or Facebook?
At this stage I'm not entirely sure myself, but from early use in the workplace it does seem like Twitter (or similar services) have the potential to cut through the mass of email for particular types of information that would otherwise get lost.
With email the problem is often not seeing the wood for the trees and things get lost amid the mass of information with only those things that are urgent or from certain groups of people bubbling to the top. With Twitter it is possible to establish a less direct form of communication that is both less formal and more direct. The brevity of Twitter messages at 140 characters (about 30 words) does require a certain discipline and so what is communicated is cut-to-the-bone information. Of course it may be a largely useless message or it may be notification of an important event, but either way it's small and accessible enough that it can be read and discarded or acted upon as appropriate without having to wade through a lot of "uneccessary" baggage.
Part of the issue will be integrating Twitter into services that people already use, whether it's a favourite website, messenger services or RSS feeds. This is where its simplicity is a strength as it easily integrates into pretty much any text-based medium. I do wonder what will happen once the shine wears off and if the content will be strong enough to keep people visiting.
The proof is in the longevity of any web-based service and it may be that Twitter is just flavour of the month and is replaced by something more elegant that addresses the same needs. On possible downside is that the interface is a bit clunky and design seems something of an afterthought, although to be honest I think this adds to the charm. It may be though that Twitter is here to stay as one of a suite of tools alongside email, blogs, messenger services and forums that we use to communicate online.
Whatever the case we will be Twittering away as we build ICTHorizons.com and hope that you will join us.