The State of Twitter

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February 1, 2012

The landscape of Twitter has officially changed. What once was billed as a character-limited, microblogging service has morphed into so much more. While many still use it as a method for delivering their own individual message (“Blueberry muffin to start the day! #breakfast”), many more have assigned to it an actual serviceable value.

A company in northern California is trying to cash in on the idea that Twitter, its accounts, and its followers, have monetary value. PhoneDog, a website devoted to mobile products and services, former employee Noah Kravitz, and a Twitter account boasting more than 17,000 followers are at the heart of recently filed lawsuit that could set the legal precedent for who truly owns a Twitter account. After leaving PhoneDog in October 2010, Kravitz, who worked at the company for four years as a product reviewer and video blogger, changed his Twitter handle to no longer include the company name and continued Tweeting as usual. Eight months later, PhoneDog sued Kravitz for $340,000 in the US District Court in the Northern District of California, saying he was supposed to have given up the account. The complaint, citing “industry standards,” values each follower at roughly $2.50 per month.

While the courts ponder legal issues surrounding Twitter, Southern Cross University in Melbourne, Australia is looking to it for educational purposes. A recent study turned the social network into a teaching aide, allowing students to ask questions anonymously via Twitter to their professor. The questions were then displayed for the whole class, combining electronic participation with the old staple of raising one’s hand to ask a question. Students reported positive feedback, particularly amongst international students whose first language was not English.

Despite the potential educational benefit, Twitter still has its nay-sayers. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki said in January he was skeptical that meaningful news could provided because of how quickly false information can spread through the site. It’s certainly hard to disprove the point.

In late July, as the National Football League’s lockout was ending and a frantic free agency period about to begin, many diligent, seasoned reporters began retweeting rumors about which new team a player was heading to. In one particularly embarrassing case, a rumor involving a certain player spread through the Twittersphere like wildfire. The problem? The player was completely made up through a random account, and news organizations failed to complete basic fact-checking before re-sending the message to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users.

It’s clear that the Twitter world will develop and undergo changes in the future. In the long run, companies will grow more adept at utilizing the fast-growing social network, one that features 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets on a daily basis. Promoting your business directly to potential clients through the power of hashtags, retweets, and social marketing can be an invaluable asset when properly managed.