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Innovation

Twitter, the ultimate conference 'backchannel'

If the blogosphere is anything to go by, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) was some kind of laboratory experiment designed to push the limits of Twitter, the micro-blogging platform created by Blogger and Odeo co-founder Evan Williams.
Written by Steve O'Hear, Contributor on
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If the blogosphere is anything to go by, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) was some kind of laboratory experiment designed to push the limits of Twitter, the micro-blogging platform created by Blogger and Odeo co-founder Evan Williams. Twitter is an SMS, IM and web messaging service for groups of friends, which at its most basic invites users -- in near real time -- to answer the question: what are you doing, right now? The results of which are then broadcast to a user's social network via SMS or IM, and posted to their Twitter micro-blog.

While Twitter based communication can be as mundane as a "waiting in line at Starbucks for my first zaperchino" type affair, it's perhaps no surprise that the service has come into its own at SXSWi -- the ingredients are nearly perfect. You have a bunch of geeks -- many of which are A/B/C-list bloggers already accustomed to publishing their thoughts online -- who are all away from their desks at the same social gathering, a conference of sorts, where the cell phone gladly acts a kind of homing device to where the action is at -- and, when combined with Twitter, creates an unlimited number of conference back channels. Perfect.

All of which leads to the question: once SXSWi is over, will the Twittering stop?

Marshall Kirkpatrick in his top ten most interesting things about Twitter, says:

Twitter is great for liveblogging conference talks.  I was in the beer tent while my friend broadcasted highlights from Production Companies 2.0 talk and it was just like I was there myself.

He's turned from a "doubter" to someone who's been getting Twitter messages sent to his cell phone "all night long" whilst attending SXSWi over the past 3 days:

You’d better believe I’m going to turn off SMS notification after SXSW!  For now though, it’s a phenomenon that’s fun to watch.

For others, I'm sure it will be Twitter business as usual.

Neil McIntosh (head of editorial development at Guardian Unlimited) makes a number of observations on why Twitter may have crossed the chasm:

  • the service is "cheap" in terms of effort required from the user
  • grows in value the more people use it (and especially the more people you know that use it, thus giving you an incentive either to get others to sign up, or sign up yourself)
  • offers instant gratification pretty much every time you log in.

McIntosh concludes:

...when you compare and contrast the effort required on some other social networking sites just to get signed up, or extract some meaningful output, you see just how hard it is to design that kind of simplicity in.

Thus, Twitter's success points to why other social networks are destined to fail.

Related post: Could 2007 be the year of social network fatigue?

 

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