Brevity Is the Soul of Twitter

It's either going to revolutionize our lives or blow out of town in a sea of dust. There really is no in-between for Twitter, the popular website and instant-messaging application that is this month's flavor of the Web.

Haven't heard of Twitter? I won't tell. In a nutshell, it's a way to create brief blog entries that are delivered by text to your circle of friends and posted on the Twitter landing page for all to see, if you so choose -- until it gets bumped.

You already have the popular deal site Woot.com using Twitter to alert prospective buyers of new deals -- and, more importantly, to let them know when they have sold out of a featured item. Twitter was also the star of this month's South by Southwest festival. Even the Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW  ) CEO is raving about it.

Have Blackberry, will blog?
Text messaging is a popular application. But broadcasting to a wider audience makes sense. However, that aspect of Twitter isn't exactly new. Blogging sites such as Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Blogger.com already allow users to submit text entries -- and even digital snapshots -- from their cell phones. And Twitter's social-networking and social-bookmarking features are alive and well in traffic hubs such as News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace and Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) del.icio.us. So why Twitter?

Twitter's strength is its inherent simplicity and its hipster newness. That glow may either fade or be copied by online search companies and wireless providers in time.

Is Twitter perhaps too simple for its own good? Most Blogger posts and MySpace entries are petty, but at least they've also offered journalistic excellence and music-act discoveries. Twitter's mettle will be tested as we head into the 2008 elections. Will the same presidential hopefuls that have set up pages on Google's YouTube and MySpace's Impact Awards turn to Twitter to draw readers in to the minutia of their campaigns? The John Edwards bandwagon is already on board, and more are likely to follow.

For now, the "politicians" who seem to have followed are bogus. Much like MySpace's epidemic of fake celebrity pages, Bill Clinton's spot on Twitter is obviously a goof. A pair of Barack Obama accounts were created several weeks ago, but no postings have been made on either one. Either they're fake as well, or Obama's campaign was smart enough to snap them up so a prankster doesn't get to them. How Twitter polices its handles may go a long way toward dictating its popularity with influential people.

The limitations of brevity
How clever can you be in 140 letters or fewer? That may be the perpetual challenge for Twitter. It may be great for breaking headlines and updating group plans on the fly, but will the limitations of text messaging render it useless?

My initial instinct for the perfect application for Twitter was based on the Rule Breakers growth-stock newsletter that I am a part of. Wouldn't it be neat to send out a text message to all active subscribers to alert them on new buy recommendations? The monthly issues do that already, but wouldn't Twitter be a neat wrinkle to update members as news breaks that is moving a stock on our scorecard? We have issued sell recommendations between issues, so I'm sure it would add value to the subscription.

Yes, it's that neat. However, the limitations do remain. You don't want someone acting on a dozen words or so that are strung together. That's the kind of effort that would have the teacher slapping an "incomplete" on your homework.

On a personal basis, brevity works just fine for social alerts:

  • The 8 p.m. movie is sold out, so we're going to the 10:30 p.m. showing instead.
  • The scene is dead at this club. Let's move the party.
  • Where the heck is my spatula?

That can already be accomplished through text-message functionality, though Twitter casts a wider net and throws in the creepy allure of elective voyeurism. That may be enough to keep the site going -- for now. The site incorporates "badges" as a neat viral promoter that allows folks on sites like MySpace, Blogger, and LiveJournal to incorporate their Twitter stream-of-consciousness entries into their blogs and social-networking landing pages.

That makes Twitter a neat social diversion, though commercial applications like Woot and the headline-grabbing entries by legitimate celebrities are what is necessary to take Twitter to the next level.

Will it happen? Perhaps. Will it be acquired before that? Traffic-hungry companies such as Google, Yahoo!, IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI  ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) have beefy cash balances and aren't afraid to use them.

They're rich, they have a history of buying out small trendsetters, and from what I'm told, they don't need no stinkin' badges.

Microsoft is anInside Valuerecommendation. Yahoo! is aMotley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter pick. You don't need Twitter -- or a 140-character text message -- to land a free 30-day trial subscription to either service. You can also join me atRule Breakers, where promising growth companies like Twitter are never too far from our minds.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does have a Twitter account, but he's still not sure what he's going to do with it. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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