So the first big news out of SXSW Interactive this year seems to be that Twitter has hit some sort of adoption tipping point: In Ross Mayfield's phrase, it's "tipped the tuna."
Twitter is a presence publisher: it asks you "what are you doing now?" and you tell it. It, in turn, tells your friends, or the whole world, if you make your posts public. Your friends can receive your Twitter posts via IM, SMS, web, or my preferred method, the Mac-only Twitterific app.
When I've been asked to describe Twitter, I call it "Dodgeball for people who don't go out." (And the fact that I can use that description tells you something about the tech-nerd quotient of the people asking the question.) Dodgeball is all about the ephemeral moment: we're here now, come join us. Twitter is a bit more stateful: it could be Dodgeball-esque, but the people on my friends list use mostly for less pressing things -- for updates on their moods, to describe a sky, and even for advice and a sort of asynchronous group chat.
However, Twitter is also apparently very useful as a Dodgeball-type app at a conference like SXSW, even though there is a Dodgeball Austin, and I wonder in fact if the long lagtime as Dodgeball has gotten integrated into Google will end up working against it: I'm not sure why it left the space for Twitter to move into.
I tried getting Twitter on my phone, on the Dodgeball model, and had to turn it off: it was making me crazy. I need to know that Clive is at his local New York bar right now: I do not need to be interrupted on the street to know that Emily in LA is packing for a trip. (Sorry, honey.) Having Twitter on my desktop makes a lot more sense -- it provides a light-weight, low-cost way to check in with the world outside my workspace.
Liz Lawley, a bigger Twitter fan than I am, says:
What Twitter does, in a simple and brilliant way, is to merge a number of interesting trends in social software usage--personal blogging, lightweight presence indicators, and IM status messages--into a fascinating blend of ephemerality and permanence, public and private.
I'm not sure about either brilliant or fascinating there, myself, but I know this much: despite all the other presence indicators available to me, I haven't turned it off yet. For the rest, I'll have to see.
Note: I'm michelet on Twitter if you're interested, or want to add me as a friend. I'm not a hugely active poster, as you might have guessed from the above, but reading my previous "twitters" did remind me I still haven't posted here about The Coast of Utopia. Maybe when I start procrastinating tomorrow, which I've taken off to finish my IA Summit talk...