When the Tsunami struck SE Asia, killing huge numbers of people, I was struck by how poorly information flowed in that region. Scientists viewing pacific ocean irregularities seemed to be alarmed, but I understand it generally takes up to “hours” for word to spread from those scientists to those affected by the bad news.
This delay seems totally unnecessary in all but the remotest locations on earth – certainly not including the beaches of Thailand or even most islands of Indonesia where at least a handful of people have internet access.
My proposal is that Twitter create an “Emergency Broadcast Network” to spread news of pending trouble both regionally and around the globe. The system could be as simple as a simple informal network, but I think stronger would be a formal Twitter verification of thousands of credible people who are allowed to broadcast a tweet to everybody in an affected area. This in turn will be retweeted rapidly, effectively creating a huge swell of targeted “emergency tweets”.
Obviously everybody affected is not on Twitter, but enough people will see this that those folks can then contact authorities and media to spread the word. This is likely to work *faster* than the outmoded legacy systems such as radio and fax that plague even many “modern” police and media agencies.
Perhaps to enhance the credibility of the network Twitter could very formally assign several thousand volunteers – who collectively can easily be on call 24/7, the ability to review ”Emergency Tweets” for authenticity, though this could create delays so I think the first experiments would be to assume those authorized would use the power responsibly.
Jessica Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal is breaking the news today that the social media mavens at Twitter.com are raising an additional $100 million in venture capital, giving Twitter a new valuation close to (insert Austin Powers voice here) one billion dollars.
Jessica notes that previous funding valued the company at about 255 million. The new funding round not only confirms that Twitter is now a key major online player but will give them huge resources to continue rapid growth and expansion and perhaps even marketing, although one of Twitter’s brilliancies is that it needs an advertising budget of zero. Twitter is the ultimate “word of mouth” tool for the online generation and everybody from celebrities to businesses are using the tool to create a dialog with fans, customers, and friends. Where Facebook is powerful as a tool for maintaining relationships with friends and family, Twitter is superior as the fast and superficial way to keep in touch, “shout out” a message to the world, and generally manage large networks of customers, friends, conference attendees, etc. There’s room for several social networking tools but I think we’ll see both Facebook and Twitter continue to thrive and grow substantially in the coming years.
As we’ve been noting for some time Twitter represents something of a “perfect online storm” where timing, simplicity, and social media are combined in a way that appeals to both sophisticated and new technology users. The last time we saw this combination of innovation with the technological zeitgeist was Google search, and we all know how that turned out.
Perhaps we’ve written too much here about the microblogging / messaging service Twitter, but I remain convinced that Twitter (and also Facebook with her many new users) represent a mainstreaming of social networking that is a very important development in the evolution of the internet. People, not technology, are the key to understanding why the internet is so important and no better example is the election in Iran and how Twitter is being used – in spite of massive Iranian Government censorship – to bring news to the outside world and spread messages in the country as well. CNN Reports that the US State Department is actively encouraging Twitter to maintain uninterrupted services in the hopes of keeping up the flow of uncensored (and often anti-Government) information. CNN’s Anderson Cooper Reports.
This is not to suggest that Twitter’s offering unbiased reporting of the situation. On the contrary much of the Twitter buzz is anti-Government and in favor of the opposition candidate and a freeer, more open Iran. Many Twitter rumors are false as well, but the point is that we’re seeing the service used in a profoundly important and significant way. More importantly Twitter in Iran is playing a key role as one of the few uncensored outlets.
Time magazine has a feature about the rise of Twitter as a major growing social routine as well as an impending huge force in American business and culture. Readers here know I’m already in something of an argument here at Technology Report with the most excellent Jeremiah Owyang of Forresters about this topic after his keynote at the Twitter 140 conference suggesting Twitter is simply enjoying the early buzz from a hype cycle that will relegate the service to obscurity soon.
Not so, say I and I think Steven Johnson of Time would agree. He’s summed up an important aspect of Twitter very well:
I think there is something even more profound in what has happened to Twitter over the past two years, something that says more about the culture that has embraced and expanded Twitter at such extraordinary speed. Yes, the breakfast-status updates turned out to be more interesting than we thought. But the key development with Twitter is how we’ve jury-rigged the system to do things that its creators never dreamed of.
In short, the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to it.
A particularly intriguing aspect of Twitter is that in the purely technical sense it’s not really anything all that spectacular. What makes it special is that it’s changing the way people behave with respect to technology, opening the tech window for many who have been waiting for applications that allow them to express themselves without the bother of blogging, gaming, or interacting with the stereotypical onliners who tend to skew “highly technical” and “young”.
Here at the first major Twitter conference it’s surprising to hear a very sharp, leading technology watcher so profoundly misunderstand the significance of Twitter, but it’s happening right now in real time.
Jeremiah Owyang, no stranger to Twitter, is using what I’m pretty sure is mostly canned presentation to explain to the enthusiastic Twitter audience that they are mistaken to see Twitter as singularly significant. He’s certainly right that Twitter is not the only social media game in town and that it’s still smaller than Facebook, but I think he’s missing the significance of the trend here. Twitter is growing faster than any major application in history, it already has widespread mainstream and celebrity adoption across most demographic groups, and it is evolving an ecosystem noted more for how it shares Twitter functionality freely with everybody than how it seeks to be proprietary.
Sure, Twitter is currently far more significant as a sociological phenomenon than as a big business tool. Perhaps Jeremiah’s big business focus is getting in the way here, but the global public conservation has begun in a powerful way and Twitter – more than any other application – is the key to accessing that conversation and participating.
Hmm – I’m live blogging this right now during his presentation and he’s changed his tune a bit to (correctly) suggest many of the ways Twitter is now used by companies to engage with customers. I’m wildly guessing the first part of the presentation was created before the rise of Twitter?
Dear @jowyang, Twitter is not over hyped.
Update: I had a brief chat with Jeremiah and Stowe Boyd (who had also tweeted his disagreement with the “overhyped” tag on Twitter. Owyang noted correctly that many new tech tools come out swinging with a lot of buzz and are labelled “the next big thing” only to land on the dustpile of obscurity or become only marginally significant after a few years. But as somebody noted during that talk Twitter is about human innovation, not technological innovation and thus is more likely to withstand the test of time.
Important but unknown data points make the calculations somewhat unreliable, but for me the growth rate combined with the large current size and easy capitalization suggests Twitter has already become something of a mainstream standard that *cannot* die a quick death and is very unlikely to die a slow one. We needed a standard for chit chatting across the web in the global conversation spawned by the advent of the social web. Although it’s not clear why Twitter is winning this game I think it’s almost clear that they will be the big winner, and since they are sharing the wealth so generously I don’t see how anybody is likely to unseat them. Facebook and Myspace can continue to thrive as private social tools and Google can thrive as the search of choice. Ebay will remain the main US auction space for some time. This still leaves a massive market in which Twitter can continue to provide the key standards and infrastructure for the global conversation.
Jason Calacanis is no stranger to successful internet companies and even though he has no direct financial connection to Twitter (to my knowledge), he’s very bullish on Twitter’s prospects to make a *lot* of money as Twitter traffic and growth explode online.
Jason is right to tell people to ignore today’s Wall Street Journal article suggesting Twitter’s lack of revenue is a sign of weakness. Almost to the contrary Twitter is correctly building a loyal following of Twitter “Friends and Followers”, many of whom would not participate if the commercial elements were too overwhelming. Google did this masterfully with search with a lean, user friendly interface. After people became loyal and even addicted to Google search they turned on the revenue spigots and Google became the key online player within just a few years.
Calacanis is noting how simply “turning on” various possible advertising features at Twitter would instantly lead to millions in revenue – he said “hundreds of millions” but one should be skeptical of that level of optimism given the challenges Facebook has had despite their huge level of traffic and participation.
Calacanis is so optimistic about Twitter he’s convinced it will be worth more than Facebook eventually, and feels that it’s now worth about a billion based on the implied valuations of the venture capital.
*The two day Twitter event starts Tuesday May 26th*
This is only the second WordCamp San Francisco and promises excellent insider insights from WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and Google’s top blogger Matt Cutts who has been using the WordPress blogging format for several years.
This is the first major Twitter conference *ever* and is sure to bring a lot of interesting people and companies to the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View.
Hope to see you there in person or here at Technology Report’s live coverage of these events.
Like it or not, Twitter’s spectacular and explosive growth is unprecedented and in my opinion may herald something of a new era in broad based social media participation. Unlike Myspace and Facebook, Twitter appears to be popular pretty much across the entire US demographic landscape and is making significant inroads into foreign markets. Perhaps most significantly Twitter is doing this pretty much by word of mouth and huge free exposure on network news and celebrity TV. Twitter is growing rapidly without spending more than a trivial amount (if any) on marketing.
TechCrunch is citing Compete.com statistics showing 19 million vistors to Twitter last mont, up some 95% … per month. At that growth rate the service could surpass *all other applications* within a year. The recent increase was fueled by a celebrity onslaught of Oprah’s Twitter debut and the hugely popular Ashton Kutcher vs CNN Twitter duel and this is unlikely to repeat every month, but even at last year’s growth rate of very roughly 1000% Twitter will be very huge very soon. Facebook and Google continue to remain very solidly in control of much of the online landscape with hundreds of millions using those services but it’s now very clear that Twitter is in the social media game in a big way.
With a simple and intuitive interface, a 140 character limit on comment size, ten second sign up, celebrities, and superficial content, it’s easy to see why this service is popular among mainstream users as well as businesses who want to be able to push out content to “followers” quickly and easily.