UPDATE: This post recently passed its FIFTH BIRTHDAY!
Twitter is a simple application with one real function: notification. Twitter posts are called ‘updates’ (or sometimes ‘tweets’). People use Twitter to tell the world practically anything but usually what they’re up to right now.
Twitter is clever because it’s a platform. Dozens of applications already use it as a service. Businesses and individuals are using it to distribute notifications, links, reminders, press releases, even new content – stuff created specially for distribution via twitter (which is going to be very interesting). People are going to build businesses on top of it, just as they’re doing now on top of Google and other web 2.0 businesses.
Strictly, in fact, Twitter is clever because it’s a metaplatform, since it sits on top of a bunch of other platforms: networks, operating systems, applications. It’s all about the evolution of the ‘stack': services like Twitter are slotted into the hierarchy of communications services above and below existing ones – between the bare wires at the bottom and the highly organised content and ideas at the top – making the whole thing richer and more useful.
Twitter is clever because it works on mobile, web and IM (And some other places too). Being at home in several different environments is quite a trick. Really, the only way to achieve this is to be very simple. Twitter is very simple: 140 characters of text. No pictures, no rich media, no metadata, no nothing. It’s lowest common denominator media (in a good way). Twitter’s richness is all in the contributions of its users
Twitter is clever because it’s social – participation involves building a network. Being successful on Twitter will require you to be popular or at least interesting.
Twitter is clever because it’s human. ‘Following’ someone who’s got something interesting or clever or useful or beautiful to say feels like a real privilege. As a follower you’re permitted access to something intimate and personal – you’re an insider. Getting a Twitter update from someone interesting is a real treat. Coming back to your mobile after a meeting to find a dozen is even better.
Twitter is clever because it’s made by its users. It’s a 100% user-generated form. Twitter is an unobtrusive (‘dumb’) carrier for the words of its users. Twitter – at least for the time being – promises no rich media additions, no video, no chat and no music. Twitter hackers, though, will probably provide all of the above.
Twitter is clever because it’s up-to-date. Attention spans are collapsing, content is distributed in ever smaller chunks, immediacy is a critical value for dozens of products. Twitter’s got the lot.