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Summary:

This past weekend, while walking around San Francisco’s Union Square shopping area, I decided to stop by at one of my favorite stores — Thomas Pink — to see if they had any exciting new shirts worth buying. While shopping options remained tame, I did get […]

twitter-bird1This past weekend, while walking around San Francisco’s Union Square shopping area, I decided to stop by at one of my favorite stores — Thomas Pink — to see if they had any exciting new shirts worth buying. While shopping options remained tame, I did get into a discussion with one of the salespeople, who in our chitchat picked up on the fact that I’m a technology writer.

“So what is this Twitter all about?” he asked me. I was taken aback by such a question in a decidedly non-tech and retail setting, but then quickly realized that Twitter perhaps is one of the most commonly used words in the media today. Everyone from Oprah to blathering potato-heads on cable television channels are touting their Twitter accounts, and that interest has started to spill over into the mainstream. This is making an already hot service by a San Francisco-based startup even hotter. Twitter added 5 million new users in March 2009, according to ComScore Media Metrix, a market research firm. Nielsen says nearly 60 percent of new Twitter users bail on the service as they try to figure it out.

In the past, I have pointed out that Twitter is many things to many people. The many definitions of Twitter are what actually make it very powerful. (Dave Winer, on the other hand, believes that soon there will be “many different Twitters” for precisely those reasons.)

Take my Thomas Pink salesperson. After some basic questions about Twitter, he leaped to the money question: How he could boost his sales at the store via Twitter? Now Twitter as a channel for e-commerce is something I don’t actively think about, but his question did make me think: A salesperson could create a list of followers to whom he or she can broadcast messages such as “your favorite striped shirts are available at 30 percent off” — or something like that.

Regardless of how Twitter mutates, this weekend shopping trip turned out to be yet another proof-point that Twitter might be hitting a tipping point.

  1. adamjackson Sunday, May 3, 2009

    Hey Om. First of all I live in Union Square. Next time, ping me and I’ll buy you lunch.

    Second of all, i’m writing a book on Twitter and I began writing things down in my spare time in August of 08 when there weren’t any books on the subject and now there are over a dozen titles for sale on Amazon. It’s amazing how fast the little service has grown and I’m excited to be a part of its growth.

    I have to say that there’s madness to the Twitter economy right now. People are using it for millions of different things, there are millions of web based tools and desktop apps that interact with it and companies are being funded and making money off Twitter’s back yet…

    there’s not Twitter directory of apps, paid commercial accounts, getting started help for new users and it seems like Twitter’s concept was to flip a switch and see what happened and something certainly happened! I just wonder what’s next. Will Twitter continue like this or try to regain control of the 3rd party apps? It’s all a mystery right now.

    1. Adam

      Thanks for the invitation for lunch. I will take you up on that :-)

      Best of luck on the book on Twitter. It should be a fun read.

      1. You did a write-up when my co-author wrote the history of twitter http://gigaom.com/2009/02/01/a-brief-history-of-twitter/

        You’re on my list for receiving a copy when it prints and I hope you take the time to read it.

    2. A book on twitter? Great idea – I suggest 15,325 chapters of 140 characters ;) OK, OK.. I’m sorry!

      1. Great suggestion! You’re not the first to recommend a book that’s tweeted out but, like Twitter, there’s no business model :)

    3. Hi Adam, for your Twitter anecdotes, there has been a UK journalist trying to trace the guy who knocked him off his bike and went off after giving a false address (ongoing, with many ‘leads’), and a UK magazine that found two missing dogs via Twitter. Future of Twitter? It will level out, launch a commercial arm and float on until Bill Gates makes a ‘comeback’ with Microtelepathy.

      1. You make some excellent points but the book isn’t a book about success stories per se’ it’s going to be a style guide just like a style guide that you’d read in school or a field guide you take with you when you go camping.

        There are no rules to Twitter and we respect and understand that but I’ve send out over 50 thousand tweets across all of my Twitter accounts and I’ve learned a thing or two about short hand blogging and the best way to get the job done using 140 character messages.

  2. adamjackson Sunday, May 3, 2009

    Additionally, I wanted to add I joined Twitter for the 1st time in December of ’06 and then came back in March of 07. I was on the service when we didn’t have search and replies didn’t even work. There have been advancements but the basics have remained a constant.

  3. Carl Foster Sunday, May 3, 2009

    So by “tipping point” do you mean a point where Twitter will reach their peak and begin to fail? I think Twitter is just hitting their stride and it the possibilities are already coming to fruition. Companies are making millions through sales on Twitter. Maybe you mean “tipping point” in a different way?

    1. Who is making millions off twitter?

      1. Robin Majumdar graham Monday, May 4, 2009

        - those exploiting T as a viral marketing tools, be it for direct profit (i.e. spitters drawing traffic to e-commerce sites)

        – those using T as a branding & comm tool to increase brand awareness…

        – Twitter itself, and their key VC / angel financiers, who now have a huge dataset to work with… wait ’til they start mining that data and pull a contextual advertising coup à la Google Adsense / Doubleclick / FB Beacon.

  4. As a big Thomas Pink fan as well, I have to say that if your friend at the store wants increased business, he should tell the mother ship to actually advertise, beyond the Pink Panther cooperative crossover; other than the coverage in GQ photo spreads, visibility is non-existent and adspend is zero.
    I say this hesitantly, because I really do not want to head to my local T. Pink and find them sold out of casual shirts in XXL. It’s still a relative secret. A magnificent, fits me to a T secret.

  5. I guess the tipping point is jus starting off…a lot of my non tech friends have started signing up in the last 4 weeks..and these are the same people who jus use the web for email and facebook and just that..no rss..no blogging..and no VOD…

    In short simplicity and good pr(read celebrity endorsements) really drive the mass non tech crowd….

    Think about the deadpool of cool apps which lost out coz all their features were designed for their peers and not for the masses

  6. This whole twitter thing is a creation of the media. Why? Because twitter itself acted as a news source picked on by the news media and hence got much mention in the news. No doubt people like to mouth-off a bit but this is a “phenomenon” that is more of a fad than something that has lasting value. Take your own example of the sales person tweeting about the discount and people ‘following’ the sales man – this is highly contrived and you know it sucks as an example. How many sales people do you want to “follow”? Tho at the moment it is fashionable to report one’s every move, the fad will wear off once the twitter novelty wears off and the talking heads stop talking about it. It will be yet another “Facebook” like creature looking for a business model.

    1. IT is a creation of the media and that is why it has reached a tipping point … As opposed to other creations which are never used and die a quite death because nobody knows about it …

      The kind of free marketing twitter gets is just stupendous. It makes me envious. ..

      BTW I follow woot on twitter – Its a great way to get updates about sales … Why is it hard to believe that I will not “follow” Amazon or the apparel store om mentioned …

      And I follow updates of companies like dropbox as they let me know when they have launched new stuff … Last I checked google makes billions knowing what i search … And mobile operators mae billions off sending sms’s (a lot of them marketing spam) How hard do you think it is for twitter to make money ?

      1. Its amazing how otherwise rational people get carried away by hype. We have had one dot com bubble already for Christ’s sake. In the salesman example, can Om selectively follow the salesman’s tweets on striped shirts? Ofcourse the salesman will be tweeting all kinds of shirts and there is a name for it – spam – and people hate it. If Om wants to get updates only about striped shirts – there is a mechanism for it already, and thats called email. Twitter has made it easy for people to mouthoff and people like it for the moment. They will certainly get tired of it at one point and soon. Yeah, the free publicity is envious and its because of twitter’s new value and ease of new creation – it has made everyone citizen journalists. That value will likely remain and may be copied by regular news media but its hard to see everyone will be reporting their every move for ever or everyone will start “following” their neighborhood apparel store for ever. Nonsense.

  7. Hi Om,
    Twitter and e-commerce would be really something. E-commerce is all about targeting, tracking behaviour, individualizing to the visit etc. whereas twitter is decidedly the opposite. Can’t imagine the two together. On the other hand its perfect for broadcasting reviews and driving traffic.
    Just my 2 cents.
    -ram

  8. Frederik Hermann Sunday, May 3, 2009

    Carl,

    I think Om is referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of a ‘tipping point’ which is rather the opposite of ‘fail’, it’s “the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.” – The tipping point can be described as the moment when a service (or product/message/meme) turns into exponential growth and spreads ‘virally’ via word-of-mouth, it really hits mainstream etc. – More here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tipping_Point

    @Om, I had a similar experience at the most recent Social Media Club event when suddenly more ‘non-techies’/Internet newbies started to join the event, sales people, an insurance salesman, people that have recently been laid off and that just heard or read something about Twitter and social media and wanted to know more. It’s the point where the message spreads far beyond our circle of early adopters and Gigaom readers :-)

    Cu and cheers,

    Frederik

  9. Stephen Pickering Sunday, May 3, 2009

    It certainly has tipped, but I think FriendFeed is on the launching pad

  10. Rob Poitras Sunday, May 3, 2009

    One of the downsides is that as it becomes more popular there are more high quality people using twitter. Since there so many people worth following, it is much more difficult to follow everyone and what they are saying.

    So what is the solution to following a couple hundred people that you really want to listen to what they say but can’t part ways (tear).

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