That one word was all it took for American graduate student James Karl Buck to burrow his way out of an Egyptian jail, where he had ended up for covering an anti-government protest in April this year.
Buck texted the word into his mobile phone and sent it out to his friends via Twitter, a micro blogging site that lets its users send short messages--"tweets"--from cell phones, IM and Facebook. His one-word message triggered a flurry of activities and with the help of his fellow Twitterers, he was eventually released from prison.
Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone, said Buck's little episode demonstrates the value of real-time communication "that follows you wherever you go". And it seems there are many others who agree with Stone, or according to comScore, at least 3 million users a month--and this number doesn't include mobile exchange, a popular choice among a large portion of the Twitter community.
Not bad for a company that was founded just a year ago, and that managed to raise US$22 million in funds without even demonstrating, yet, how it plans to monetize its business model.
In an interview with Fortune Magazine posted this week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said: "We'll monetize when the time is right."
I'm not sure how, or if, Twitter will ever spin its first profitable dollar--unless, perhaps, it follows the likes of Google and heads toward the route of targeted online advertising.
But, whether it will eventually be able to churn out profits isn't important here. What's more crucial is that the idea behind Twitter was allowed to be conceived in the first place.
Tech startups sprout up in Silicon Valley like there was no tomorrow, spawned sometimes without a clear idea or plan of how they can generate profits and sustain the business.
That's the intrinsic value of Silicon Valley, and one that tech companies in the Bay Area must continue to thrive on.
Far too often, particularly in Asia, new business ideas are dreamt up and promptly killed off simply because they're not deemed to be commercially viable. As a result, many ideas don't even get to see daylight and that, I think, is a big pity.
It's true that not every business idea will see the same success that Bill Gates saw with Windows, and not every innovation seeks to make the world a better place like the OLPC initiative.
But that shouldn't stop anyone from daring to dream, and to dream big, without being burdened by doubts about whether that dream can be monetized. If the residents of Silicon Valley shared the same reservations, the likes of Twitters and Facebooks would never have seen cyber daylight.
Years back, way before the Internet evolution inspired the gazillion Web and Web 2.0 tools that are available in the cloud today, someone at the University of Cambridge decided to install a camera in the old computer lab so that images of a coffee pot located in the room could be broadcast over the local network. This was set up so people working in other parts of the building wouldn't need to make fruitless trips to the room if the pot was empty.
Image updates of the Trojan Room coffee pot, as it was called, were eventually made available over the Internet as Web browsers became pervasive. It offered no real business value and had no commercial viability, serving only to help ease the tired legs of Cambridge University staff.
Despite its inability to "monetize", the Trojan Room coffee pot grew to become a well-known icon of the Web's early days and eventually inspired the world's first Web cam--which, as we know today, has become a lucrative business model for companies like Logitech, Creative Technology and even Microsoft.
Someone I know recently shut his small but profitable tech business and returned to the corporate world as an employee. He had a family, with a second kid on the way, and wanted a job that offered a stable and predictable income--and one where he wouldn't have to worry about whether he'll generate enough revenue to pay his employees each month.
But he wondered if he had needlessly squandered the past six to seven years building a company only to close it down. I replied that those six to seven years had given him an experience that not many in the workforce can offer--an employee who has the gumption to start a new and unproven business, the know-how of managing a business from start to finish, and the tenacity to stick with the entire project.
There is no shame in failure. The real shame is when the fear of failure stops us from daring to dream, even if it's only a Twittering dream.