Even if you never intend to send out a message of 140 characters or less you have to admit Twitter is a powerful cultural phenomenon. It’s already fueled at least one revolution.
Having said that, it’s understandable that many don’t understand what all the fuss is about: isn’t it just another social network?
Yes and no.
Twitter can be used as a social network, but there are also other creative uses for Twitter – such as a search engine, a local event planner or a newspaper. And you don’t need an active Twitter account to take advantage of those uses.
Let’s take a look at a few creative uses for Twitter for those who think Twitter is useless.
Real-Time Search Engine
In the summer of 2006 I worked as a carpet cleaner at Calvin College, where I attended university. The school has a different vibe during the summer, as it’s mostly international students who stay behind and work while American students go home to their families. I mention this only because on Thursday, June 26 a curious thing happened just outside my window: every single Ghanaian I knew was sprinting across the yard of the apartment complex with a flag behind them.
Why? As it turns out, the Ghanaian football team had just defeated team USA in the World Cup. I found out about this a day later when I asked my friends why they were celebrating. Were this to happen today however, I’d simply do a quick Twitter search for Ghana and immediately find out what happened.
Which brings me to perhaps the biggest use Twitter has for people who think Twitter is useless: real-time search. If something is happening somewhere in the world, you can be sure someone is talking about it on Twitter. This power cannot be underestimated.
For example, this year the World Cup is set to take place in South Africa. A quick search for “worldcup” on Twitter reveals all sorts of conversation happening:
This can be very useful if there’s a certain subject you like to keep up on, and you do not need a Twitter account to run a search. Simply go to Twitter Search and enter any subject you like.
If you want a little more depth on this subject, check out Nancy’s recent article about websites that show you the hottest Twitter topics now.
What’s Happening In Your Town?
On a related note, Twitter is a great way to find out what’s happening in your town right now. I regularly search for my home – Boulder, Colorado – and usually find out a lot about what’s going on around town.
Twitter is particularly active in Boulder, because of the university here in town and the sheer number of tech startups, so there’s always something new to discover in this way. But I’m sure if you search for your town, wherever you are, you’ll find at least a few fun and interesting things.
You’ll also find a lot of spam, sadly, but you will get used to skimming over that and finding the good stuff.
I’m by far your favorite writer on this site. I’m smart, attractive and extremely humble. As such, you want to know about every article I write. You can do that by watching my Twitter page.
My own vanity aside, Twitter RSS feeds are a great way to follow an individual writer’s work regardless of the site they post it on. Just head over to anyone’s Twitter page where you’ll find an RSS icon in the right column:
Do this and you’ll be able to watch the online activities of anyone without ever creating a Twitter account. RSS feeds can plug into Firefox, Google Reader and an endless number of other apps!
I try to mention Boxee whenever possible, and it just so happens that it recently integrated Twitter feeds. Create a Twitter account, follow your favorite video creators and any new videos they make will show up in the left column of your Boxee homepage.
I started following Autotune The News specifically so I’d find out about new videos in Boxee; recommend any feeds worth following in the comments below.
There you have it: four uses for Twitter for people who think Twitter is useless. I’m by no means the definitive expert on the topic, and I’m sure you all can think of many more ideas for making use of Twitter. Inform your fellow readers about these uses in the comments below!