Jack Riley: Cashing in on the consciousness

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Micro-blogging site Twitter is the latest online success story, despite the fact that it may leave many scratching their heads. Encouraging users to address, in no more than 140 characters, a single question ("What are you doing?") with an ever-changing answer, it purports to provide a fast and efficient messaging service between mutual friends, as well as offering a window into the zeitgeist for anyone keen to peep into the lives of 14 million US users and many millions more around the world.

Users have their own page which they update with tweets, and can also follow the tweets of others as well as publicly or privately message those whose updates they receive. Recent media coverage has been overwhelming, with Sarah Brown just the latest celebrity adopter driving interest in a site which has been credited with electing President Obama as well as fomenting revolution in Moldova.

But is Twitter set to be a global success of Facebook proportions, or destined to pale into insignificance like Friends Reunited? Having allegedly turned down an offer of $0.5bn from Facebook in January, the site's owners certainly seem to think the future is bright; in the face of claims in the last fortnight that Google was about to buy the company, chief executive Evan Williams is said to have declared he wouldn't sell Twitter for $1bn.

Commentators see its list of updates as a stream of the collective consciousness of its international community of users, and real-time searching of people's updates (a feature Google is said to envy) can yield consumer trends invaluable to businesses. Twitter also allows companies to communicate directly with consumers, offering giveaways or special offers. Dell's 300,000 followers check its Twitter account for discount updates. The value to business in terms of communicating with millions of potential consumers is huge, a factor Twitter Partners will be keen to exploit. Added to interest from all the big players in the world of computing, it looks like tweeting is here to stay.

Jack Riley is part of The Independent Digital Media team

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