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7 Uses For Twitter You've Never Heard Of!
I don’t get twitter.
Like many people, the thrill of communicating my thoughts in 140 characters is…well, non-existent.
Despite my – and i‘m sure many other’s – ambivalence towards the platform, it remains popular. Really popular. And it’s getting ever more so by the day.
So there must be something I’m missing, right? Surely there’s more to this than just 140 characters about your grooming, drinking and sleeping habits?
What is Twitter good for then, if you’re not going to tweet?
It turns out quite a lot. And not at all trivial stuff either.
I put together a list. A rather interesting one, actually. And it’s about all of the things you can use twitter for – except its intended purpose.
As the list below shows, the fundamental mechanics of twitter – of a sort of stripped down social networking (making it different from facebook), open up a huge array of options for the creative mind. Think disaster relief. Think electronic hobbies. Think monitoring disease epidemics.
This list is a combination of already proven, currently proposed and just plain imagined (by me, mainly) tools, ideas and strategies to utilise the fundamental mechanics of twitter in ways the inventors did not at all intend.
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1. Twitter can detect earthquakes and other natural disasters?
Yeah – sounds crazy, right? But it’s already worked…
Turns out that the model of Twitter – that of a huge network of interconnecting nodes (they’re called people now), combined with the predilection for those nodes to tweet about (regrettably, all) things that happen to them makes for a fairly creative early warning system of sorts.
By creating software which monitors the global “tweetstream” (is that even a word? In an age of 1337speak I guess that’s irrelevant), and cross-referencing it with geographical data, a program can model – with reasonable accuracy, the location – and probable future impact – of floods, fires, earthquakes, and other biblical-type shenanigans.
The same system can - theoretically – work for epidemics, too.
Recently, in this fascinating article it was shown that analysis of Google’s search trends revealed the early warning signs of the spread of swine flu – and substantially sooner than the systems set up by the organisations dedicated to monitor the spread of contagious diseases – such as the Centre for Disease Control in the US.
The proliferation of mobile internet-capable devices in particular has made all of this possible: enabling people to tweet, blog and search for information on-the-fly. You can’t help but wonder, as more of the world comes online, what sort of potential solutions will surface from this increased capacity to connect…
2. Twitter is an electronics hobbyists wet dream...
Which probably has just made you tune out completely. Electronics is not at all what it used to be though. These days, with the advent of cheap, widely available computers, sensors and components which allow devices to connect to the internet, hobbyists projects are becoming more ambitious than you’ve ever imagined.
In this environment, Twitter has evolved into a sort of ready-made “remote control interface” for electronics hobbyists, giving them the ability to graft on all sorts of triggers, switches and sensors which then relay information back to Twitter, allowing the owner/operator to remotely monitor – or indeed activate their devices remotely.
What use is that? This site is full of examples you've never imagined.
This leads us straight into one of the cooler areas of (mis/ab) use of Twitter…
Using Twitter as a remote control interface for electronics is just the beginning.
It turns out that by hooking up cameras – and even inexpensive webcams will do the job fine – a laptop with an internet connection, some inexpensive motion detection software (VitaminD) and a couple of motion sensors, you can rig up a home security system that can not only detect and record video of potential intruders, but can then send you an alert of the attempt via Twitter.
The mind boggles at the opportunities this presents. Ghost hunting? Bird watching? Your imagination is the only limit!
If you’ve ever wanted to be an evil genius, it’s not that difficult now – and probably will cost you less than a few hundred dollars – volcano lair and toned female henchwomen excluded.
4. Twitter can help you make money, too
And not just by connecting with other people who share your ideals/vision.
Instead, you can use Twitter’s search function – or any of the other third-party Twitter search websites – to find out exactly what people are buying, wanting to buy, or looking for more information on.
All at once, and all in real time.
It’s a marketer’s best friend.
Search for your particular keyword or niche on Twitter – see what comes up. You should hit a virtual gold mine of ideas for the passions, problems and concerns of people interested in your topic or niche.
Further, throw in a few of these commands into the search engine, and see what you find...
“I need...”, “I want...”, “Where can I buy...”, “How can I fix...”, “Where did...”, “When will...”, “Must buy...”
Your imagination is the upper limit here. Intelligent use of Twitter’s search functions has the capacity to create an incredibly useful research tool.
It’s a fantastic way to come up with article ideas, also!
Get more out of the Twitter Search Engine...
This article has a few tips on how to get the most out of the Twitter search engine...
5. Twitter can be a search engine...
Related to the above, you can just use twitter’s search function as a search engine in its own right.
Sure, the information you glean from it will be brief, possibly inaccurate, and probably unintelligible – but it is a great way to “skim” for information – especially if you’re looking for fields of interest related to the object of your search query, information that would not be revealed by Goolge’s wonder wheel or other techniques of discovering relational content and topics.
Search for comics – see what else people who talk about comics are talking about. Is there a common trend in the non-comic topic that most comic tweeters seem to make reference to?
The possibilities go on...
6. Twitter can tell you how a large number of people are feeling...
OK, it’s not life-saving technology (yet), but you have to admit that having access to models of an entire group (country?) of people’s collective moods is just a little bit cool.
Using a process of psychological word-association, combined with software which collates and maps data from the “tweetstream” (I’ve decided it is a real word now) researches have been able to graphically represent the shifting moods of people across the US, in different geographical locations, and at different times of day.
The mind boggles at the future directions this could take. Imagine a global “early warning system” for depression, where everyone’s tweets are analysed and information is dispatched to people who – in their language usage – begin to show the early signs of depression.
Or – and civil libertarians might have something to say about this one – imagine being able to monitor the vital statistics of everyone’s health with a small wireless device – say embedded in a watch - and dispatch medical assistance immediately to those whose stats showed an obvious case of danger without them having to call for assistance themselves?
It’s not hard to imagine a process like that being turned towards marketing either, in the spirit of Google’s contextual advertising program.
7. Twitter can be the main way you support a product...
This is pretty bland, but hey – customer service is always going to be like that.
Most companies have a Twitter presence these days. Often for reasons I can’t even fathom. Probably as a concession to fashion more than anything.
I think what many companies miss though, is the opportunity to use Twitter as a primary means of customer support.
The benefit for a company is that it compels instant yet concise communication from their customers, both in terms of feedback about the features of a product, and as an avenue to express questions or concerns about problems or uses for a specific product.
It’s cheaper than a dedicated customer service phone line, and the fact that you’re already “online” with a customer means you are free to direct them to as many resources as possible – maybe even resources that you have created, allowing you to “upsell” down the line.
Take care though! Poor customer service is more likely to “go viral” in the world of Twitter than the physical world…