Twitter's Potential for Business Users

Watching the emergence of Twitter, a microblogging tool that allows people to post updates in 140 characters or less, IT leaders are beginning to think about how the technology could be used in their organizations.

Twitter, a social networking site that allows people to track each other by writing and exchanging short text messages, has spurred business technology leaders to investigate how they might utilize such a service to improve their organizations' ability to collaborate and communicate with colleagues and customers.

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Twitter has gained popularity among the social media digerati in large part because it addresses the problem of information overload on the Web by requiring that users keep their posts brief and concise (140 characters or less). It's become a phenomenon known as "microblogging," and other sites such as Pownce and Jaiku have started similar services. Users follow friends, colleagues, media figures, bloggers, online publishers and complete strangers whose updates they find interesting enough to monitor.

But while users can see Twitter's practical benefits, the service has been dogged with outages (mostly server performance issues) that have threatened its viability. People have also abused Twitter by updating their status too much, effectively spamming the people who follow them. Analysts and IT practitioners say those issues, coupled with improved access and administrative controls, would need to be addressed before microblogging could have a place in their organizations.

"You need to understand how you will manage and filter the information," says Jonathan Yarmis, an analyst with AMR Research who researches emerging technologies. "What information we create, and who we share it with, will become an issue in the enterprise [for microblogging]."

Understanding the Uses (and Users) of Twitter

Before it can be understood how Twitter, or microblogging technology in general, could be used for business, it's important to reflect on the service's evolution in the consumer market. Twitter was started in March 2006 by Obvious. Jack Dorsey, the man who came up with the idea for Twitter, became its CEO.

During an interview with CIO in February, Dorsey said that the idea was inspired from working as a programmer in the dispatch industry for 12 years and from watching the "status messages" people leave on their instant messaging (IM) clients when they are away from their computer.

But his ideas were much bigger than IM, and tied to the notion that improvements in mobile computing would lead to new ways of communicating and conveying a person's activities to friends, family and colleagues.

"The limiting factor of the IM metaphor is that you're bound to the computer, and I always wanted a way to get away from that," he said at the time. "Another goal of mine is to get away from sitting down in front of a computer and actually be out there doing something, be it walking or some activity, share it with my friends and also get a sense of what they're doing."

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