Twitter's Tipping Point

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.