Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Twitter is Awesome

I don’t understand Twitter—how it works, how it makes money, or anything. As a computer engineer, I marvel at how impressive it is in terms of scale. For example, they are now crunching 50,000,000 tweets per day. That’s incredible.

Volume doesn’t make it awesome, though. Most of those tweets are about what uninteresting people are eating, watching, etc. Here’s why it’s awesome: I am empowered to connect with people in otherwise unreachable places. This calls for some examples:

Example 1: Microsoft

I recently ranted a bit about Visual Studio 2010 RC crashes:

If you crash on me one more damn time, VS2010, I will drop kick you onto the roof of my building. I'm not even kidding. 9:58 PM Feb 24th

It's official, VS2010 is getting taped to a ball and kicked onto the roof of my office tomorrow. Hope you're happy...(I warned you). 10:59 PM Feb 24th

This brought a very nice reply from someone I’ve never heard of (@Pilchie):

@mharen: Are you using a touch screen? Seen ? 11:09 PM Feb 24th 

It turns out that @Pilchie is “Dev Lead for C# IntelliSense/Refactoring/etc at Microsoft”. Well how about that? In a mere 10 minutes, I was getting help from not just Microsoft, but the guy who works on the product I was complaining about. And his link worked!

Example 2: Stackoverflow/Codinghorror

I was working on a project which is using a lot of the same libraries that Stackoverflow uses. I ran into trouble with one of the components: I couldn’t figure out which version to use. So I pinged the lead developer/co-creator of SO:

@codinghorror where do i get the best wmd editor for use with markdownsharp? your version on google code? 7:30 PM Feb 8th

And his very prompt response:

r @mharen our version is on Google Code, or you can dig through the fork-splosion on github and try to guess which version is "best" 7:33 PM Feb 8th

In three minutes I had my answer from the top guy of the a product that’s used by bajillions (if not gajillions) of people. Even if he hadn’t answered, I was hoping that someone else might (this wasn’t a private query).

Example 3: Red Gate’s Neil Davidson

Via Twitter, I discovered a neat little book on software pricing. I tweeted about it:

40% in and still interesting... RT @spolsky: A short ebook about software product pricing (from @neildavidson) 9:10 AM Nov 3rd, 2009

A half-hour later, I see this in my feed:

@mharen Glad you're liking the eBook! If you have time, could you post a review on Amazon once you've finished? ( 9:37 AM Nov 3rd, 2009

It’s at this point that I realize who wrote the book: Neil Davidson, co-founder/joint CEO of Red Gate Software, and founder  of the Business of Software conferences among other things. A cool guy to get to know, no doubt. I finished the book and left a review as he asked and took the opportunity to ask about one of his products:

@NeilDavidson you bet; we use a lot of your products btw--thanks! What's up with Log Rescue not supporting SQL >2000? Anything planned? 9:40 AM Nov 3rd, 2009

To which I got a very simple and candid reply (the beauty of the 140 character limit!):

@mharen We're not going to do any more work on SQL Log Rescue. Lots of people used it, but nobody bought, and SQL 2000 work would be huge 9:42 AM Nov 3rd, 2009

It’s so cool that this simple medium enables and promotes these types of quick conversations. In 2/3 of these cases, I wasn’t even trying to initiate communication—others were listening for certain things and they found me.

When I first starting toying with Twitter it seemed that its signal-to-noise ratio was cripplingly low. Now I see that by following keywords—not users—the signal is strong.

It also has a unique ability to cut through the BS by forcing you to choose your words carefully. I like that.