Bitten by the Microblogging Bug

More Interesting Than "What Am I doing Now?" Are the Answers to "What Am I Thinking Now?" and "What Do I Find Important Now?"

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This article was printed in CONTROL's April 2009 edition.

Keith LarsonBy Keith Larson, VP Content, Putman Media

It all started with “Trying to figure out this Twitter thing.”  And there it was, my very first Tweet. Hardly profound and well short of the 140-character limit, but a valid answer to the “What are you doing?” query above the Twitter.com input box. Like so many others, I was curious but skeptical. Why on earth would anyone care to read what I’m doing  now in a 140-character text message? And why would I care for real-time status updates from anyone else?

Indeed, as a publisher and editor whose livelihood is moving increasingly from the printed page to the online world, a big part of my job is to stay on top of the latest developments in online media—and to figure out how they might help this magazine and its digital presence to better serve the process automation community. But for me, Twitter just wasn’t gelling.

Well, that first Tweet wasn’t followed by another for several months. I was in what Jim Cahill, Emerson Process Management’s chief blogger (and now Twitterer), likes to call “the gestation phase.”

It seems many people Tweet once or twice, find a few people to follow, and lurk in the shadows. After a bit, they’re like the biblical scattered seeds: Some few engage and grow deep roots, while many more are withered by the sun, eaten by birds (Twitter irony), or choked out the by the weeds of more pressing matters.

But if the latest Nielsen reports are any indication, many more people are now taking that leap of faith from gestation to engagement. In fact, I just now learned this via a “retweet” from one of the Twitterers I follow (thanks, @julianng!), even as I was writing this column.

According to the Nielsen study, visits to Twitter.com grew 1,382% between February 2008 and 2009, making it the fastest growing “member community destination” on the Internet. (Facebook visits still dwarf Twitter’s by an order of magnitude, but its year-over-year growth has cooled to a mere 228%.)

The study further indicates that Twitter.com’s 7 million monthly site visit tally in February understates usage because so many are Tweeting via their mobile phones. “PC Web usage of Twitter.com doesn’t tell the whole story,” says a blog post by Nielsen Online’s Michelle McGiboney. “The ability to [use] Twitter via a mobile phone—whether through the mobile Web or via text messages—is a driving factor in the social network’s success.”

“In January, 735,000 unique visitors accessed the Twitter Web site through their mobile phones,” McGiboney continues. “The average unique visitor went to Twitter.com 14 times during the month and spent an average of seven minutes on the site.” An additional 812,000 users accessed Twitter via text message on the AT&T and Verizon carriers alone.

Learning these latest statistics just in time to use in the column you’re reading (trust me, my managing editor is waiting with the Bard’s bated breath to meet our April deadlines), is just one example of Twitter’s utility. As my engagement begins to reach critical mass, others arise—and I foresee many more as growing numbers in the process automation community find each other in the Twitterstream.

Remember that on Twitter you select people and entities to follow, presumably those with whom you share common interests, and, more importantly, who post Tweets of interest to you. Do this, and you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of short, relevant updates that you won’t mind scanning regularly. Personally, I find that  answers to “What are you doing now?” aren’t nearly as interesting as “What am I thinking now?” or “What do I find important now?” It’s in mediating this conversation among like-minded people, telegraphed into efficient, precise language, where Twitter earns its keep.

And, this just in for those of you already on Twitter. A group of us have proposed a #PAuto hash tag to identify posts related to process automation and to help us find each other. You can find me at twitter.com/keithlarson.

Looking forward to Tweeting you soon! 

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