There's still debate about whether Twitter is a mainstream phenomenon, but Google's instant popularity on it should dispel any doubts the microblogging service has become an essential tool in tech-savvy circles.
Google's Twitter account attracted 27,176 followers in the less than two full days since its launch Wednesday. That's nearly one every 5 seconds.
Google's first tweet was characteristically nerdy. "I'm 01100110 01100101 01100101 01101100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101100 01110101 01100011 01101011 01111001 00001010." Translated, first from binary to decimal ASCII codes to letters: "I'm feeling lucky."
Google hasn't attained the Twitter follower popularity of Barack Obama, with 333,381 as of Friday morning, but it is a remarkably fast ascent. Microsoft's Live Search Twitter account has 1,536 followers, and Yahoo's Twitter account has 4,876. Yahoo climbed aboard the Twitter bandwagon two and a half weeks ago.
In case you're new to the Twitter phenomenon (don't be embarrassed--plenty of people are), the service lets people post public or private thoughts in text-message-friendly packages of 140 characters or less. You can follow other people's Twitter feeds, and they can follow yours. There's no shortage of what-I-had-for-breakfast tweets, but there also are plenty of meatier missives.
Tech companies and others have discovered Twitter as a way to communicate with fans and foes and to discover and address customer concerns. The increasingly important Twitter search can give companies some insight into what people are saying in the moment.
I'm a Twitter user (I'm at stshank) and like it. But one thing raises my hackles about all this corporate use: who are the faceless people representing these companies? Is it a single person, a collective, a bot, or what? A customer service rep, PR people, the CEO, or a programmer? It feels strange having a public conversation with an entity that's both personal and impersonal.
I like it when companies identify who's doing the tweeting in the bio section of their Twitter page, at least in some vague way. "A Googler" is somewhat disconcerting.
For now, Twitter conversations often take the form of a public back-and-forth of tweets addressed by appending "@" to the username, for example @stshank. That makes tools such as Twhirl or TweetDeck important since Twitter's Web interface won't flag tweets that mention your username.
However, as Twitter rises in popularity, I'm not convinced this conversational aspect of corporate Twitter use will be sustainable for large companies. I can't keep up with my own e-mail, and people have a lot more to say to a company such as Google.
So Twitter for such companies might merely become a one-way communication mechanism that can be used to disseminate news releases, blog posts, and such. That's still fine, but it largely duplicates what can be done by subscribing to a company's RSS feeds, and it's not as exciting as the more social aspects of Twitter.