For me: mobility and cost and immediacy.
Most people seem to use computers to tweet but it was conceived as a way to share text messages with a bunch of friends easily.
My family are all in a different country and a different time zone. Posting little 140 character questions and updates that can be read by the whole family means that we can keep up-to-date even 3,000 miles away and 5 hours out of sync. And I don’t need to log on to my computer to do it.
My sister-in-law lived in yet another country for the first 8 years I was part of her family, and we spoke briefly at Christmas and maybe birthdays and it was always a little awkward because we knew so little about each other.
Since we’ve started tweeting, I know how she spends her day every day and now we chat about the things that matter to us. I’ve discovered she has a great sense of humour and, last month, when she had a car crash, I knew about it and was able to check that she was OK (and maybe offer a little support) while she was still waiting for the towtruck to arrive. My mother and sister-and-brother-in-law (not related except through my marriage) trade one-liners and discuss trends. My own sister, who went to the same University as my sister-in-law, has talked to her more through Twitter than they ever did at university (where they were aware of each other but never talked).
And sometimes it’s just fun. I was able to follow 2010 as it broke around the world.
And yes, if you’re a Facebook person, you can do something similar with status updates. But Facebook is designed to allow you to talk only to people you know or knew.
While you can protect your tweets, you can also allow anyone who wants to follow you. I’ve had conversations with business people and celebrities I would never have dreamed of emailing. I landed an interview with a corporate bigwig and Tweeter, simply by asking in 140 characters, and promising to be similarly brief in the interview. I bet you if I had emailed him, my email would have been lost, or ignored, or put aside until such time as he could compose a nice email reply. But tweets are immediate, brief and easily acted upon on a whim.
(I know, it seems crazy that email is now too formal, or too much work, but so we go)
What If I Don’t Want The World To Know When I’m Going To The Store, But I Do Want My Family To Know?
Why not keep separate accounts?
I have a personal account that only my family and friends can follow, where I tweet every day updates and comments. I also have a business profile that is open. Anyone can follow my tweets and I follow lots of celebrity business people as well as people in my own field and people I come across who are just plain entertaining or informative. I have a third profile that I use to follow celebrities and other people I don’t know. It’s my voyeuristic little guilty pleasure and I don’t check it all the time, nor do I want to, so I keep a separate account just for them.
Having all these different profiles allows me to be free with personal information in my protected account (“The house is empty: come on in, burglars!”), and professional when I want to be seen that way (in my business account) and goofy, with guilty pleasures (like the fact that I follow a bunch of sci-fi actors and occasionally send them gushy fan-girl comments that I’d rather keep my family and friends from mocking me about.)
As Simple or Complex As You Need It To Be
One of the great things about Twitter is its simplicity: 140 characters, delivered by phone or to a simply-designed webpage. But that’s also a downside: it’s not very powerful. You can’t filter the people you follow, or sort tweets, or hide tweets…but luckily there are lots of enterprising software boffins out there who can’t resist tweaking and making something more complex, to suit their own needs. As a result, there are tons of programs you can download (mostly free) that allow you to sort through your Tweets, or look up all mentions of a specific keyword, whatever you want to do. Tweetdeck is the acknowledged power-user program, I also like Tweetie for my iPhone and have used Twitterfox/Echofon as an add-on for my Firefox browser (although I had some problems with it forgetting my accounts). I’ve also used, and quite liked Seesmic on my computer, which is a lot like Tweetdeck, because it lets you see multiple accounts all at once.
There’s a lot more that you can do with Twitter (automated tweets, hashtags, link shorteners) but we’ll save that for another day and another post.
Why Not Buzz?
Well, I talked about Buzz on the day it came out and before it became clear how silly Google had been, compromising people’s privacy the way they did. I didn’t see the need for another social network (for me) but it may be that we all migrate to Buzz eventually. For now, I’ll keep Twittering.