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$TWTR: A User's Perspective

|Includes: Twitter, Inc. (TWTR)

Since I first took the plunge in 2009, $TWTR has become my "go-to" source of information, taking the place of newspapers, websites, blogs, industry journals, and more. Even though I use other tools, including $FB, I find Twitter to be the most powerful information aggregator. With its high-profile IPO nearly upon us, I thought I would attempt to articulate why this is the case. With about 14,000 tweets and nearly 2,000 followers, I am somewhere in the middle of the pack of the tweeting community, which I hope lends a useful perspective.

This may or may not be of any value to those (myself included) deciding whether Twitter will represent a good investment. My personal track record is excellent for identifying very successful companies very early on -- but as a consumer rather than an investor (e.g.: Apple, Amazon, Google, Tesla).

But seeing that my 14,000 tweets is actually more than the sum of all of the board members of Twitter, we are reminded that backing the company and using the product need not bear much of a relationship.

What are the most compelling aspects of Twitter?:

Instant information. As a news junkie, my ears always perked up at the sound of the voice of Mark Knoller on WCBS Newsradio 88 when I had the radio on at home, or in the car, in the New York area. Mark is the long-standing White House reporter for CBS News, and he always had an interesting take on the President's activities. Now, @markknoller reports directly to me on Twitter - where ever in the world he is or I am - before he even tells his radio audience. And I can see what he is up to - and thus the President - from anywhere, anytime, along with colorful anecdotes unsuitable for radio format.

Information from all subject areas of interest. Some people only allow their Twitter identities to reflect a single element of their lives - a livelihood, an interest, an expertise. I find the richness of the medium in indulging in all my varied obsessions, which include those that are vocational in nature as well as my avocations. In my case it is quite an eclectic bunch. Subject areas range from Stephen Sondheim and musical theater, to harness racing (trotting and pacing horses), to politics and public policy, to energy policy and business and electric cars, to the Jewish community and Israel, to entrepreneurship and innovation. Twitter gives me a diversity of voices on all of these subjects, giving both information and perspective that I would not get from any other source.

If you follow 2,000 accounts, how can you keep up?

Of course I can't. But just as one can never meet all the people, visit all the places, have all the experiences one would want to in life, you can set up your universe to maximize your time. Likewise, my main Twitter feed is always moving, like the Times Square "zipper," and a glance of it always yields a plethora of interesting nuggets. The various columns I have setup on my TweetDeck let me get the latest at a glance on a single subject-area at a time, and there is one column for people I actually know, so I can keep up with their thinking.

But how much can you really say in 140 characters?

Actually 140 characters gives you the ability to articulate quite a bit - and in a format that is more likely to be read than something much more extensive. And while you can always spread a sentiment out over multiple consecutive tweets, the reality is that tweets should be seen as headlines. Most of the time newspaper readers only read the headlines. If something interests the reader, then they can chose to read the article. Likewise, most information-heavy tweets have a link to an article, a blog, or some other source of longer-form information available if you want it.

What are other applications you use Twitter for?

Crowd-sourcing and Research: Searching almost any term on Twitter can give someone an instant poll on the subject - whether it is what people think about a public figure, a book or a movie. Properly filtered, one can very quickly get a feel for public opinion on almost any subject. Using the "$" sign along with the ticker symbol of a stock, you can get news and sentiments on that security from a wide range of people at a glance. Use a product name and see what the public is thinks of it.

Real-time events: Experiencing real-time events with Twitter at hand can be enormously enriching, and create community in very unexpected contexts. It can be a sporting event, an awards ceremony or a breaking news event, and you can see people and institutions in your universe or interest groups reacting as events unfold. At no time was this more compelling than in the hours just before and after the announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The event at hands was uncovered via Twitter, and it became the platform from which a spontaneous White House rally was worked-up late that Sunday night, but more than anything seeing the thoughts and emotions of people from all walks of life was fascinating.

Attending a conference with Twitter also enormously enriches the event. As you watch a panel or listen to a speaker, you can follow the hashtag feed associated with the conference and see in real-time how fellow delegates are reacting. So can the panel's moderator, who can use it as a source of questions for panelists. What's more, you can get a good sense of what's going on at a conference, even if you're on another continent at the time. At such events, my Twitter has replaced my notebook. Everything I find interesting I dump onto my Twitter, and I can review it later alongside everyone else's "notes," and anyone can see my own "notes" as well.

Who are the best people to follow on Twitter?

The answer to the question is different for everybody. The best thing to do is to start with individuals or institutions with which you are already familiar, perhaps a news outlet like CNN or the Wall Street Journal, or maybe a celebrity, or an industry guru. You can see who follows those accounts, watch their feed for who they "retweet," and click the "follow" button for whoever you choose. Of course, you always have access to all of Twitter through a keyword or hashtag search, so "following" is just to create a regular stream onto your client around your interest.

As I look at the top 10 accounts by followers, beginning with Justin Bieber at 46 million, I find that I follow none of them. The only one I might be inclined to follow is Barack Obama, but I don't because there is never anything surprising or newsy from an account like that (by contrast, I follow a lot of low profile politicians and learn a lot from those accounts). In fact, as I look at the top 100 accounts, the only two I follow are the New York Times and CNN. This emphasizes the point that if you get caught in the vortex of public caricature (e.g.: what did Justin Bieber have for breakfast?), you are missing the power of the medium.

What clients do you use for Twitter?

First, I almost never use Twitter in a browser. I usually have two clients operating in the background of my desktop. One is the generic Twitter app, which only occupies a small portion of one side of my screen in the background, which I bring to the front for a quick glance, a quick search, or to post a tweet myself. I also now usually keep TweetDeck active, and turn to it several times a day to get a broader view of columns sorted according to categories, so that I don't miss tweets from certain accounts, or containing certain hashtags or keywords.

Finally, of course, I have apps on my mobile devices which I usually turn to during downtime - in lines, in transit, etc.

My tweets 9991 through 10,000: September 12, 2012:

  1. After deliberation, I have decided to use the last 10 of my first 10,000 tweets to reflect on how this medium has enriched my life. [1/10]
  2. Anyone who knows me knows my name is virtually synonymous with "early adaptor," whether it was having a Mac in '84 or an #EV in '08. [2/10]
  3. But I came with reluctance to the world of social media, mindful of the caricature hourly reports on food consumption [3/10]
  4. After a discussion with colleagues at a bar in Washington in April 2009, I decided to give this #Twitter thing a try [4/10]
  5. And, in fact my first tweet was… @mikejgr: Feeling some apprehension about embarking on the world of twitter. But will give it a go [5/10]
  6. It did not take long to figure out that, like any medium, #Twitter is only as good as its content providers [6/10]
  7. And, what makes #Twitter so special, is YOU get to choose precisely which content providers you want! And I found mine… [7/10]
  8. …White House reporters, #EV industry experts, #Sondheim devotees, harness racers, & personal acquaintances, to the inimitable @daroff [8/10]
  9. No #Twitter experience stands out more than the night we got #OBL - the combination of info, emotion and community was monumental [9/10]
  10. And thus, THIS -my 10,000th message of 140 chars. or less- expresses gratitude to all those who thoughtfully enrich my life everyday [10/10]

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.