Why Twitter is the future of search, communication and discovery and thus, the web itself

I’ve been a microblogger for almost two years, but I’ve spent most of my time on Jaiku. It is just recently that I started to use Twitter more frequently (the key is not to use the twitter.com-page but external tools such as Tweetdeck, more on that further down).

Twitter and Jaiku (purchased by Google in 2008) are similar yet very different services. On Jaiku, each jaik (post or tweet) can be commented and the comments don’t have the 140 character limit of the jaiks. Comment threads that you are part of (have posted to or initiated) will be displayed on your own Jaiku page (mine is erikstarck.jaiku.com). This means that the discussions in the comments take up a large portion of your Jaiku page and attention. It also means discussions can be long and deep (here’s an example).

Twitter, on the other hand, is a much lighter and simpler service. Messages are always limited to 140 characters and there are no comment thread on the tweet. This limitation is one of the greatest strengths of Twitter. There’s no room for longer discussions which keeps the noise down. Most things posted to Twitter is actually surprisingly relevant. It’s self-organising: if you send out too many irrelevant tweets, people will not subscribe to you.

Twitter works on (at least) three levels:

  • The global Twitter stream, an enormous flow of everyone tweeting. This stream can be used to catch the global mood of twitters everywhere. There are numerous services trying to dip in to this gold mine of data such as Birdhive, Twisten.fm, Tweeterate or Twitturly.
  • Your Twitter friends list. This is a select few number of Twitter fellows you choose to follow. This is that will take up the largest amount of your attention, so as mentioned above, people who send out too many irrelevant tweets will be removed from the friends list.
  • The @username addressing directed to a single user. This is a “feature” that emerged from the Twitter users themselves. Using the nomenclature of @username means that it’s a public message with a specific receiver. This is a really interesting development of the previous generation instant messaging systems such as ICQ or AIM, showing most of all a mental shift in the way we use the web to communicate, from private to public.

There is also the #hashtag way of defining a specific subject, making it easier for the Twitter search engines to pick out tweets (for example the ongoing #spectrial). This too emerged from the Twitter users themselves.

Twitter also supports a more traditional direct messaging feature between two users, but I don’t think this is very commonly used.

Another ecosystem emerging round Twitter is the one with all the URL shortener services, Tr.im being a good example (since you only have 140 characters, URLs to web sites must be shortened).

It took me a while to realise the beauty and power of Twitter, mostly because I tried to use it the same way I used Jaiku: with the web based GUI on the Twitter frontpage. It wasn’t until my friend Nicolai showed me Tweetdeck that I got the aha-moment.

Now I see it as a truly disruptive technology, with the potential to improve the way we search, communicate and discover news on the web. That means it’s stabbing against Google, the telecom industry (SMS is a >$100billion business), RSS and old media.

The next generation search engine, the one that will replace Google, is not a smarter machine. The oldest truth of the web is still the most relevant: we are the web. Yahoo! or Microsoft or two guys in a garage will not defeat Google.

No, we will all do it, together. 140 characters at the time.

(I’m @erikstarck, by the way.)

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