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.

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But setting access around sending messages to narrower groups of people is more difficult. In the settings of Twitter, there is an option to broadcast your messages wholesale into the public time line or just to your own followers.

For businesses, there would need to be more specific controls, says Davis of Popeyes Chicken. He says "the verdict is still out" on what a Twitter-like service could mean to his company. "I could see a company setting up a few Twitter accounts for specific types of communication [such as] system-outage notification and disaster notifications," he says. "It would have to support hierarchies so that you could send one message to a team, a group made of several teams or higher levels. These groups could be departmental or geographically based."

Popeyes Chicken started a user profile on Twitter to engage in conversations with other Twitter users about its core product. One tweet on June 19 asked another Twitter user, "Take a look at popeyes.com. It is REAL chicken marinated from the inside out. Not that chewed and glued processed stuff!"

Elwart of the South Carolina parks says he can see how his employees—spread out among the state's 47 parks—may find such a service like Twitter helpful for broadcasting short messages that people have to see but don't need to fill up e-mail inboxes.

"The welcome center of a park could say on Memorial Day that 'traffic is heavy,'" he says. "It'd be a lot quicker to post [via microblogging] than writing an e-mail."

The other upside, he says, is that the technology can be utilized easily on mobile phones since it relies so heavily on SMS text.

Waiting for Vendors

The mark of Web 2.0 and social technologies has been that innovation occurs in the consumer market first before technology vendors, both start-ups and incumbents, begin to make the technology palatable for businesses.

This has been true with technologies such as social networking profiles (now part of both Microsoft SharePoint, that company's large software platform that includes social technologies, and IBM's Lotus Connections).

According to Yarmis of AMR Research, social software vendors will likely begin developing Twitter-like technologies for the enterprise that would include some of the administrative consoles as desired by the CIOs interviewed for this article.

"They will be thinking about the notion of 'stream computing,'" he says. "Stream computing is this idea that you'll have a large number of data streams out there and the issue will be, how do you derive business value from it? We'll have to figure out a way to package it in containers and have it be more organized."

Forrester's Owyang noted that telecom companies could make a big play in the microblogging space, seeing as they have access to people's texting patterns. "They have access to your social graph," he says. "They know who the top ten people you have [texted and called are]. That is a real opportunity for them."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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