Because we think Twitter is important, my company has been working on integrating Twine with Twitter. Last week we soft-launched the first features in this direction.
It turns out there is some room for improvement to our implementation of Twine-Twitter integration -- which many Twitterers have pointed out. This has really opened my eyes to the power and importance of Twitter, and also to how different the Twitter-enabled world is going to be (or already is, in fact).
Before last week, I never really paid much attention to Twitter, relative to other forms of interaction. In order of time-spent-per-medium I did most of my communication via email, face-to-face, SMS, phone, or online chat. I had only used Twitter lightly and didn't really know how to use it effectively, let alone what a "DM" was. Now I'm getting up to speed with it.
I have had an interesting experience this week really immersing myself in Twitter for the first time. It hasn't been easy though. In fact it has been a real learning-experience, even for a veteran social media tools builder like myself!
You can see a bit of what I'm referring to by following me @novaspivack on Twitter and/or searching for the keyword "twine" or the hashtag #twine on Twitter, and by viewing a recent conversation on Twitter between myself and the popular Twitterer, Chris Brogan @chrisbrogan.
Twitter changes everything. My world, and in fact The World, have just changed because of it. And I'm not sure any of us are prepared for what this is going to mean for our lives. For how we communicate. For how we do business. The world just got faster. But most people haven't realized this yet. They soon will.
In this article I will discuss some observations about Twitter, and why Twitter is going to be so important to your brand, your business, and probably your life.
Why is Twitter Different From What's Come Before?
I pride myself on being on top of the latest technologies but I think I unfairly judged Twitter a while back. I decided it wasn't really useful or important; just another IM type tool. Chat-all-over-again. But I was wrong. Twitter is something new.
- It is both real-time and asynchronous
- You can reach more people, more quickly, and the ratio of influencers to the general population is still quite high on Twitter because it is early in adoption cycle
- The threshold for interaction and sharing is lower: People accept messages, publish messages to, and forward things (by "Re-tweeting") along weaker social links (meaning, to, from and via people they barely know or don't know at all; this does not happen with email except in the case of chain-letters).
- Twitter has a different social structure and sharing dynamic than email -- there is a strong sense of shared place, where everyone is able to see the public activity stream, and can easily follow sudden conversations and issues that flare up in the commons.
- Twitter has its own somewhat unspoken rules of ettiquette around following, direct messaging, tweeting, etc. The best-practices for using Twitter, and for integrating with Twitter, are not easy to find, and I'm not sure there really are rules or standards. You sort of have to figure it all out on your own.
- Twitter is also quite different from other IM systems because the way it is designed encourages public and group discourse, not just person-to-person messaging. It has more of a "commons" in it.
What is Twine?
Before I explain the potential for integrating Twine and Twitter, and what I've observed and learned so far, I'll explain what Twine is, for those who don't know yet.
Twine is a social network for gathering and keeping up with knowledge around interests, on your own and with other people who share your interests.
Twine is smarter than bookmarking and interest tracking tools that have come before. It combines collective intelligence of humans plus machine learning, language understanding and the Semantic Web.
For example, suppose you are interested in technology news. You can bookmark any interesting articles about tech that you find into Twine, for your own private memory, and/or into various public or private interest groups (called "twines") that are for collecting and sharing tech news on various sub-topics. The content is found via the wisdom of crowds.
But that is just the beginning. The real payoff to users for participating in Twine is that it automatically turns your data into knowledge using machine learning, language understanding, and the Semantic Web.
Twine is Smart
What makes Twine different from social bookmarking tools like Delicious, or from social news tools like Digg, StumbleUpon and Mixx? The difference is that Twine is smarter.
Twine learns what you are interested in as you add stuff to it, by using natural language technology to crawl and read every web page you bookmark, and every note or email you send into it. Twine does this for individuals, and for groups.
From this learning Twine auto-tags your content with tags for related people, places, organizations and other topics. That in itself is useful because your content becomes self-organizing. It becomes easier to see what a collection is about (by looking at the Semantic tags), but you can quickly search and browse to exactly what you want.
Twine also learns from your social and group connections in Twine. By learning from your social graph, Twine is able to infer even more about who and what you might be interested in. This learning -- about your Semantic graph and your Social graph in Twine -- results in personalized recommendations for things you might like.
Finally, like Twitter, Twine helps you keep up with your interests by notifying you whenever new things are added to the twines you follow. You can get notified in your Interest Feed on Twine, or via our daily email digests, RSS feeds, and soon by following Twine activity in Twitter (Coming Soon).
Twine and Twitter -- Different yet Complementary
Twitter is for participating in discussions. Twine is for participating in collections of knowledge. They are quite different yet complimentary. Because of this I think there is great potential to integrate Twine and Twitter more deeply.
Both services have one thing in common: -you can share and follow bits of information with individuals and groups -- except Twine is focused on sharing larger chunks of knowledge rather than just 140 character tweets, and it also adds more value to what is shared by semantically analyzing the content and growing communal pools of shared knowledge.
Whereas Twitter is largely focused on sharing messages and brief thoughts about what you're doing, Twine is for collecting and sharing longer-form knowledge -- like bookmarks and their metadata, and metadata about videos, photos, notes, emails, longer comments.
There is a difference in user-intent between Twitter and Twine however. In Twitter the intent is to update people on what you are doing. In Twine the intent is to gather and track knowledge around interests.
Twitter + Twine = Smarter Collective Intelligence
Twitter's live discussions plus Twine's growing knowledge and intelligence could eventually enable a new leap in collective intelligence on the Web. We could use the analogy of a collective distributed brain -- a Global Brain, as some call it.
In that (future) scenario, Twitter is the real-time attention, perception and thinking and Twine is the learning, organizing, and memory behind it. If linked together properly they could form a kind of feedback loop between people and information that exhibits the characteristics of a vast, distributed intelligent system (like the human brain, in some respects).
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the coming Global Brain, and speaking about it to others. Twitter + Twine may be a real step in that direction. It is one route to how the Web might become dramatically more intelligent.
By connecting the real-time collective thinking of live people (Twitter), with Web-scale knowledge management and artificial intelligence on the backend (Twine) we can make both services smarter.
Our Near-Term Twitter Integration Plan
Big futuristic thoughts aside, our near-term goals for integrating Twine and Twitter are much more modest.
- For phase 1, we are simply enabling Twine users and admins to invite Twitter followers to connect to them on Twine, and to join their twines around various topics of interest.
- For phase 2 we plan to enable Twine users to reflect things they post to Twine to their Twitter followers so, for example, if you bookmark a cool article to Twine it will be automatically tweeted your followers (not as a DM). If you post something to a particular twine on a topic, it will be tweeted to anyone who follows that Twine on Twitter.
- For phase 3 -- who knows? Perhaps we might enable it to work in the other direction as well: For example what Twine could pull all or selected content (such as URLs) tweets into various twines and automatically semanticize it, crawl it, index it, tag it, organize it and make it searchable? It's an intriguing possibility. This would make Twine into a powerful add-on for Twitter. I'm thinking this over, but this is pure speculation at this point.
Difficult First Step
Phase 1 of Twine-Twitter integration has had a few hiccups however.
For this phase, we enabled our users to invite their Twitter followers to connect with them on Twine, and to join their twines, from inside of Twine. This sends an invite message as a direct message ("DM" -- a private tweet) from the user's Twine account to whichever Twitter followers they select to connect with.
But the wording of our invite message came off as too impersonal and some Twitter users mistook it for a bot-generated ad rather than a personal invitation from one of their followers.
Also we had an unexpected bug that resulted in the tweet URL taking the user tologin or join Twine, but not eventually landing them at a page where they could connect to a friend or join the group they were invited to..
(*** Note: The hiccups will be fixed by Thursday of this week. The wording of the invite message and the bugs will be fixed in a patch release. We are also thinking about ways to modify this feature to be less noisy on Twitter).
We have certainly had a few complaints on Twitter about the way this feature is (not) working right now. Thankfully most of the comments have been positive, or at least understanding. We're very sorry to anyone who was annoyed by the invite message seeming like an ad.
That said, we believe that we'll have this fixed and working right very soon, and this should cut down on the annoyance factor. We're open to suggestions however.
Flare-Ups Happen In Minutes On Twitter
Ordinarily a seemingly minor wording issue and bug like what I have described above would not be a problem and could wait a few days for resolution. But in the case of Twitter all it took was one very widely followed Twitterer (@chrisbrogan) to tweet that he was annoyed by the invite message today and a mini-firestorm erupted as his followers then re-tweeted it to their followers and so on. The cascade showed the signs of becoming a pretty big mess.
Fortunately I was alerted by my team in time and replied to the tweets to explain that our invite message wasn't spam, and that fixes were in process. Chris Brogan and his followers and others were quick to reply and fortunately they were understanding and appreciative of our transparency around this issue. The transcript is here.
This situation ended well because we were quick and transparent, and because Chris and his followers were understanding. It didn't turn into a PR nightmare. But it could have.
What worries me is what if nobody on my team had been watching Twitter when this happened??? We might have been toast. In a matter of minutes, literally, tens of thousands of people might have become angry and it would have taken on a life of its own.
Why Your Brand or Company Should be Watching Twitter
Messages spread so virally and quickly in Twitter when they are "hot" that there is almost no time to react. It's at once fascinating to watch, and be a part of, and terrifying. It's almost too "live." There is no time to even think. And this is what I mean when I say that Twitter makes the world faster. And that this is somewhat scary.
If you have an online service or a brand that is widely used, you just cannot afford to ignore Twitter anymore. You have to have people watching it and engaging with the Twitter community, 24/7. It's a big risk if you don't. And a missed opportunity as well, on the positive side. My company is starting to do this via @twine_official on Twitter.
People might be complaining about you, or they might be giving you compliments or asking important questions on Twitter -- about you personally (if you are a CEO or exec) or your company or support or marketing teams if they are on Twitter. Or they might be simply talking about you or your company or product. In any case, you need to know this and you need to be there to respond either way. Twitter is becoming too important and influential to not pay attention to it.
If you wait several hours to reply to a developing Twitter flare-up it is already too late. And furthermore, if your product and marketing teams are not posting officially in Twitter you are missing the chance to keep your audience informed in what may be the most important new online medium since blogs. Because, simply put, Twitter is where the action is now, and it is going to be huge. I mean really huge. Like Google. You cannot ignore it.
But who has time for this? It was bad enough with email and Blackberries taking away any shred of free time or being offline. But at least with Email and Blackberries you don't have to pay attention every second. With Twitter, there is a feeling that you have to be obsessively watching it all the time or you might miss something important or even totally vital. Positive and negative flare-up happen all the time on Twitter and they could develop at any moment.
It appears that monitoring and participating in Twitter is absolutely vital to any big brand, and even the smaller ones. But it's not easy to figure out how to do this effectively. For a Twitter newbie like me, there is a bit of a learning curve. It's not easy to figure out how to use Twitter effectively. The basic Web interface on the Twitter Website is not productive enough to manage vast amounts of tweets and conversations. I'm now experimenting with Twitter clients and so far have found TweetDeck pretty good.
The World is Getting Faster
In the world of Twitter things happen in real-time, not Internet-time. It's even faster than the world of the 1990's and the early 2000's. Here's an interesting timeline:
- In the 1980's the fax machine made snailmail almost obsolete. Faxing was faster.
- In the 1990's email made faxing almost obsolete. Email was faster.
- In the 2000's social media rose to challenge email's dominance. The blogosphere became the center of focus.Blogging about something was often a faster way to get attention (to oneself, or to the topic) than emailing people. And you could more easily reach a larger audience.
- In the 2010's it looks like Twitter (and other real-time messaging systems) may become more important than email and even blogging. Twitter is simply faster. And you can reach more people in less time, more interactively, in Twitter than via email.Twitter may overcome the asynchronous nature of the Web. Even search may go "real-time."
Challenges Twitter Will Face
As I think about this one thing that jumps out to me is that in each wave of messaging technology, the old way is supplanted by a new way that is faster, more interactive, and has less noise. But as Twitter gains broader adoption the noise will come.
Spam. So far I have not encountered much real, deliberate, spam on Twitter. The community does a good job of self-policing, and the spammers haven't figured out how to co-opt it. Most of what people call spam on Twitter is inadvertent from what I can tell. But the real spammers are coming and that is going to be a serious challenge for Twitter's relatively simple social networking and messaging model.What is the Twitter community going to do when all the spam and noise inevitably arrives?
Mainstream Users. Currently Twitter seems a bit like the early Web, and the early blogosphere -- it is mostly an elite group of influencers and early adopters who have some sense of connectedness and decorum. But what happens when everyone else joins Twitter? What happens when the mainstream users arrive and fill Twitter up with more voices, and potentially more noise (at least from the perspective of the early users of Twitter) than it contains today.
Keeping Up. Another challenge that I see as a new user of Twitter is that it is very hard to keep up with what so many people are tweeting effectively and I get the feeling I miss a lot of important things because I simply don't have time to monitor Twitter at all hours. I need a way to see just the things that are really important, popular or likely to be of interest to me, instead of everything. I'm monitoring a number of Twitter searches in my Twitter client and this seems to help. I also monitor Twitter searches and certain people's tweets via RSS. But it's a lot to keep up with.
Conversation Overload. Secondly its difficult to manage conversations or to follow many conversations because there is no threading in the Twitter clients I have tried. Without actual threading it is quite hard to follow the flow of conversations, let alone multiple simultaneous conversations. It seems like a great opportunity for visualizaton as well -- for example I would love a way to visually see conversations grow and split into sub-threads in real-time.
Integration Overload. As an increasing number of external social networks, messaging systems, and publishing engines all start to integrate with Twitter, there will be friction. What are the rules for how services can integrate with Twitter -- beyond the API level, I am talking about the user-experience level.
How many messages, of what type, for what purpose can an external service send into Twitter? Are there standards for this that everyone must abide by or is it optional?
The potential for abuse, or for Twitter to just fill up to the point of being totally overloaded with content is huge. It appears inevitable that this will happen. Will a new generation of Twitter clients with more powerful filtering have to be generated to cope with this?
These are certainly opportunities for people making Twitter clients. Whatever Twitter app solves these problems could become very widely used.
I am still just learning about Twitter but already I can tell it is going to become a major part of my online life now. I'm not sure whether I am happy about this or worried that I'm going to have no free time at all. Maybe both. It's a new world.And it's even faster than I expected. I don't know how I will cope with Twitter, but I have a fascination with it that is turning into an obsession. I guess all new Twitter users go through this phase. The question is, what comes next?
One thing is for sure. You have to pay attention to Twitter.