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Summary:

A lot of things make Twitter special. The 140-character restriction makes the writing more potent, because people are forced to get to the point instead of rambling on. Anyone can search for things that are happening “right now,” as opposed to waiting hours (if not days) […]

twitter-bird1A lot of things make Twitter special. The 140-character restriction makes the writing more potent, because people are forced to get to the point instead of rambling on. Anyone can search for things that are happening “right now,” as opposed to waiting hours (if not days) for Google to update its links. And unlike Facebook, discussions are open to the public, which encourages greater participation.

But one feature has been grossly overlooked in terms of what helps Twitter stand out: the ability to publish headlines to the Internet using only text-enabled cell phones. How is that special, you ask?

Imagine how confined Twitter would be if it were web-only, requiring both a browser and Internet access, like most social media platforms (i.e. blogs, YouTube, and to a lesser extent, Facebook). It would still work. You’d still get an ego boost with each new follower. But it wouldn’t be as popular or used as often as it is today.

The makers of Twitter are seemingly aware of this. “Sending updates to Twitter while you’re away from your computer makes things much more interesting,” reads documentation on the devices section of Twitter profiles. “It’s all done through text messages (aka ‘SMS’), which you probably use all the time anyway, so there’s not much to learn.”

A couple of things to note from that. First, SMS is “more interesting” when coupled with Twitter because the publication of social media doesn’t have to wait for a browser, access to the Internet, or portable technology like an iPhone or BlackBerry. With Twitter, there’s no more “I’m blogging this when I get back to my desk.” You can report from the field as a story happens — so long as you have cell reception, which is better than the 76.2 percent of the world without Internet access.

Secondly, since you likely use your phone “all the time anyway,” the frequency in which you contribute to Twitter is much higher than other forms of social media, which again, typically require more advanced technology enabled with an Internet connection. I think it’s safe to say most people are a lot closer to their phone than their Internet connection. And without a smartphone and data plan, the two are mutually exclusive.

As an added bonus, Twitter “by txt” lessens the effort needed to participate in social media, since you’re already using your phone more. If there’s one reason that independent bloggers have begun abandoning their blogs, it’s because blogs require a lot of work. Since a Twitter account is much easier to maintain and update than a blog, its drop-out rate might be lower than other platforms in years to come.

Granted, other web services leverage text messaging to their advantage. I can find nearby movie times or restaurants by texting Google. And Yahoo can text me news feeds and sports scores. But Twitter is the only SMS service to enable social media for the general public, not just friends in your network (à la Facebook). No Internet required.

That’s how ordinary citizens with rudimentary technology can impact real-world events like Iranian elections. That’s how Twitter can change the way we live.

  1. Using twitter through your phone may work in the US, but in most of the rest of the world, and especially Iran, receiving tweets on your phone is not possible, and sending them is very expensive. So yeah, twitter is great, twitter is changing the way we live, nay, changing the world as we know it, etc. etc. (ad nauseum) but only if you live in the US. For everybody else, it’s a public Facebook Status Update with less functionality.

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    1. “For everybody else, it’s a public Facebook Status Update with less functionality.”

      And you can make both make your Facebook status public, and update your status via text message since at least August of last year, so this isn’t really a game changer or anything that hasn’t been done before. In fact Facebook’s SMS service, with threaded conversations via text is more interesting. And they added the ability to subscribe to peoples’ updates via text message at the beginning of this month as well.

      Info on Facebook’s SMS from last August:
      http://blog.mastermaq.ca/2008/08/29/i-love-facebook-mobile-via-text-messages/

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      1. Yes, because Twitter didn’t exist before August of last year.

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    2. Yeah this post is assuming that what the US has, the rest of the world has too.

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      1. I agree twitter is great service for US, I use twitter for announcements in the US and some other countries I also use http://identi.ca/ nicer and very sharp almost better then twitter.
        Internationally I use http://www.frontlinesms.com/what/ for SMS much safer then twitter.
        offcourse if you go to Iraq under protection of great US military then you use Twitter. Twitter PR machine is out and about, so it is not surprising the name has become such a brand. For example TechIraq was such a PR campaign.

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  2. All distractions and detractors considered, Twitter has all the benchmarks of a long term player in the social networking game. For true staying power the creators will definitely want to expand into a yet to be determined direction. My bet is they’ll release a unique and revolutionary tool to blow away all comers. If not, the end is near.

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  3. Twitter used to only BE an SMS service. When I signed up about 3 years ago, it was called Twttr and it was only through SMS. That is the reason they chose the 140 character limit in the first place: so messages could be sent or received in a single SMS message.

    The other problem with Twitter and SMS is as Hans pointed out above: if you’re not in the US, good luck updating Twitter via SMS. There isn’t even a non-shortcode SMS number that I am aware of that you can update Twitter (though you can use ping.fm to do this via a regular US number). And, of course, receiving Tweets via SMS is out of the question if you’re not in the US.

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    1. Actually you can use services like twittermail.com to send updates to twitter thru email – most mobile networks have an SMS to Email gateway – using this it is pretty easy to update your twitter status using your cell phone to send an email whereever you are.
      I think one of the other really great things about twitter is the twitter api which allowed the creation of so many apps around it making it very easy for people to actually use twitter :)

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  4. TWITTER = TOO MUCH HYPE!

    I am beginning to get tired of the Twitter hype. SHOW ME THE MONEY first and then I will get excited about Twitter. Yes, it’s real time, yes VCs are hopeful of a big exit for Twitter etc. The question remains: how is Twitter going to make money. The path to liquidity for Twitter seems to be paved by journalists, bloggers etc.

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  5. I don’t see why people are so hung up over all of this Twitter stuff. I’ve signed up and posted a few messages but I find it to be very boring and pointless. And plus, I’m only thirteen years old, so it’s not like I’m one of those “old people” who don’t understand technology.

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    1. Chey, I see your point at 42 years older and not wanting to pay for SMS service, I’ll just fossel away on the net.

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  6. Sure, all the SMS Twitter mess is useless unless some international phone numbers are provided for sms-tweeting. I wouldn’t even dare to check how much my carrier charges me for an SMS sent to the US. It’s not worth all the fuss.

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  7. i have a friendster, twitter, facebook account. friendster is popular because it is like Nokia-IT IS USER FRIENDLY, at the same time-peoplen love customizing their profiles.
    while, facebook is very professional when it comes to announcements. people won’t see it unless you are a friend of the owner of the wall. i’m trying to get along with twitter, i find it hard cause i’m familiar with fs and fb. well, i think i would learn to use it. i just have no enough time. btw, cp is helpful but pc and net is more comfortable. :)

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    1. Friendster is popular?

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      1. Frienster, Hi5 etc. also popular but they are different with twiiter.

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  8. twitter is hyped by media for their own use so that they can reach to large audiance. It has no real value.

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  9. the solution to the spread of communication via sms was born in Sardinia, and is coming at all!

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  10. No rambling? Then what’s the point? I mean I enjoy communicating my point and clarifying every word. Since the invention of movable type in the 18th century, man has sought to…. oh, never mind. Point taken.

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    1. :-)

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