Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is Twitter a useful tool for technical authors?

A lot of people I know, it seems, are talking about Twitter. Quite a lot of these discussions seem to revolve around the question: is it actually useful?

At the moment, I'm not sure myself. I'm asking myself whether it's a useful tool for technical authors.

So what is Twitter?

Twitter describes itself as a Web site service for people "to communicate and stay connected" through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

In practice, it's also used to communicate with SMS-like messages and as a "RSS-lite" feed.

Why are people twittering about Twitter?

The Internet began with "One to Many" - Web sites that acted as online brochures. Web 2.0 offers "Many to Many" - social networks, YouTube etc. Twitter is seen as part of a new phase: "Many to one".

It's an idea of being able to follow a person's actions and thoughts; to create or be part of a following. That may sound cultish, but the purpose of doing this is to help us recognise patterns. By using Twitter, you may spot trends - people doing the same thing; people sharing the same goal or intention.

According to one commentator, "You can even read exactly what your contacts are reading and recommend you read too. Content in context."

Is Twitter actually useful for technical authors?

1. Twitter may be useful in understanding your users. You could follow your customers' thoughts and action through Twitter. However, this benefit may be more useful for the technical support, usability and marketing departments.

2. Twitter may be a useful way to track the people who set trends that you may follow In the future. These can be experts in their field, imaginative thinkers etc. People like Seth Godin or Dave Winer.

3. Twitter may generate more heat than light. I know of one person who receives one thousand Twitter updates on his mobile phone every hour! That's not content in context, in my book - it's information overload.

In summary, I'm not convinced. Twitter could be useful in a business context as a way of understanding users. It is certainly something to investigate.


I've now created a Twitter account :

Tracking - One function of twitter that could be useful is the ability to track topics. If anyone in the "twitterverse" posts an update about topic, you can get a notification. This could be a handy way to keep track of certain keywords that apply to you.

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