The year-old site, co-founded by Blogger.com vets Evan Williams and Biz Stone, is a giant real-time stream of 160-character haikus. They can be uploaded by SMS, instant messenger, the web or dedicated desktop applications such as Twitterific.
The site's raison d'etre is for people to tell their friends and followers what they're up to. Followers receive updates via SMS or IM, while friends can find out though the Twitter website or RSS.
Simple enough. However, as several popular bloggers such as Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis and Chris Pirillo invaded the site in force, Twitter began to evolve into a tiny blogging platform covering every subject under the sun. While much of the chatter is banal ("My cat had a hairball today"), some is downright compelling. Scoble played Howard Cosell by providing blow-by-blow coverage of SXSW. The updates streamed to thousands of early-adopting tech influencers via their mobile phones and IM clients. It's every marketer's dream.
While some considered pulling back from their blogs in favor of piping more content into Twitter, others (including this writer) balked when people began to cry uncle because their phones became bloated with SMS alerts. Marketers who dabble with Twitter will need to do so carefully, with a full understanding of the nuances of the community.
With better personalization and search tools, Twitter will no doubt continue its meteoric rise. It seems to have struck a nerve with fans. And although it's not for everyone, for many it is just the kind of media "snack food" our attention-starved world craves.
What's still unknown, however, is just how many of these social networks people will be willing shoehorn into their already-saturated lives. While technology knows no limits, people's brains can hit a wall. If Twitter continues to catch on, the time spent on the site will have to come from somewhere, most likely other social networks. Stay tuned.
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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.