Business-like, isn't he?



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    In search of a business use for Twitter

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver May 5-11, 2009; issue 1019

    High Tech Office column

    I’m supposed to be ahead of the crowd when it comes to tech trends. But I’ve been ignoring Twitter. The much-hyped “micro-blogging” service seemed a bit too goofy to me.

    Twitter is another free Internet service – like, say, Facebook (last year’s Web 2.0 darling). You sign up and add people you know who are also using the service. In Twitter-speak, you’re “following” them. They, in turn, can choose to follow you – or not.

    You see the “tweets” – short text messages, no more than 140 characters, posted by the people you follow in a list on your screen – in your browser, in a dedicated Twitter utility (there are lots to choose from for Windows, Mac, Linux, et al) or on a mobile device. (Note: Canadians are mobile-device-Twitter crippled; only Bell subscribers have full on-phone access.)

    Though the space to type is labelled “What are you doing?” you probably shouldn’t take that literally. You can respond to a tweet, either publicly or privately, but it’s not really an effective way to carry out a back-and-forth conversation.

    Recently, I succumbed and signed on. The service offered to scan my Gmail contact list looking for e-mail addresses belonging to other Twitter users (and promising to ignore the rest). I could opt to follow them. Depending on how they’d set their preferences, they might receive an e-mail notification for each new follower giving them the chance to reciprocate and follow me. Within a few moments, I was following a couple of dozen people I knew. Half a dozen or so were also following me, and a list of recent tweets appeared on my screen.

    (You can bet that mega-popular Twitter users – Ashton Kutcher recently became the first with over a million followers and Oprah Winfrey recently signed on and is coming on strong – won’t get e-mail notification if you opt to follow them, and are unlikely to follow your tweets or mine.)

    So what do the tweets on my screen say? Ontario tech guru Jim Carroll (139 followers) points us to a “hilarious Canadian government video.” PC Magazine editor Lance Ulanoff (6,700 followers) lets us know that New York City has “amazing” weather today and tells what he’d watched on the Fox movie channel. Vancouver Sun reporter Gillian Shaw (2,000 followers) complains that the TV on the ferry wasn’t showing the Canucks game. New York Times tech columnist David Pogue (175,000 followers) shared: “If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?”

    I tweeted my now 14 followers that I was looking for ideas for the column I needed to write this weekend. So far, no one has replied. You can peek at Twitter superstar Ashton Kutcher’s page at: – his Twitter-life doesn’t seem significantly more engaging than mine.

    You can search Twitter for people or check out the service’s Suggested Users list, a collection of B-list celebrities like Weird Al Yankovic, Bob Vila and Demi Moore (Mrs. Ashton Kutcher) and politicians like Al Gore, John McCain, Newt Gingrich and Jerry Brown. Many of the PR people in my contact list are on Twitter. Checking a few of their pages suggests to me that they’re not using it any more effectively as a business tool than anyone else.

    David Pogue reported a Twitter experiment. He tweeted a request for a cure for hiccups; within moments, he had over 20 replies, ranging from the amusing to the usable – at least if he had the hiccups.

    Of course, Pogue has thousands of followers. So far, I still haven’t had any suggestions for what to write this weekend. So I remain a Twitter-agnostic. But wait – I just got notification of another follower – a stranger to me! Maybe it will become useful to me after all.

    Or maybe it’s too late – search YouTube (2007’s most-hyped web service) for “Flutter” – a spoof video promoting the next great web service, replacing “micro-blogging” with “nano-blogging.”

    Any Twitter business-usefulness success stories out there? Let me know. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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