Sunday, February 17, 2008

Twitter Intelligence (is NOT an Oxymoron)

The phrase "Military Intelligence" is often jokingly referred to as an oxymoron. (I used to think "oxymoron" was some sort of bleach product I should be using to get the stains out of my laundry -- now, with "oxymoron!") Regardless of your position on Military Intelligence, I would like to take a moment to examine what I will call "Twitter Intelligence," and how I use Twitter to be less of a Moron.

The Twitter stream contains an incredible wealth of information, seemingly random as countless Twittizens contribute their wit and wisdom in bursts of 140 characters or less. Flowing along with the current of the Twitter stream you will find intense conversations interspersed with random statements, announcements, quotes, links, exclamations, exasperations, arguments, ailments, jokes, jerks, shameless plugs, plugless shams -- in effect, the essence of human communications refined and redacted to fit in a "tweet."


From high above, this living, breathing "Twitter Consciousness" may seem a bit messy, daunting and difficult to follow. Even a bona fide conversation seems fractured as both sides of the discussion are interrupted by numerous unrelated messages from folks who are wholly unaware there is even a dialogue going on. For the casual observer of Twitter this may provide for some oddly entertaining nonsequitors as you read through the flow of messages. But for the serious Twittizen, the scholarly Tweeter, there is gold in them thar hills!


When you look at Twitter from the point of view of your personal network of folks you follow and folks who follow you, there is a particular flavor to the flow of information that is cooked up by the specifically unique community you are a part of. Although they may seem diverse and random, the comments, conversations, themes and memes you will experience are dictated by a relatively controlled universe of minds. Your network is not random. You chose to follow certain people for a reason, and certain people chose to follow you for a reason. In some cases those reasons are obvious and blatant, in other cases the reasons for following may be subtle or even unconscious. In all cases, the reasons are there because an active choice to follow was made.

When you forget about the individual streams and look at Twitter as an ocean of messages -- the entirety of all tweets from all users -- things are very different. There is no particular flavor or position and the flow of information is truly random and all encompassing. Even peeking at the public timeline does not give a fair representation of the vastness of the Twitter Mind, as your view is limited to a linear look at a snapshot sequence of tweets.


There are a number of easy to use tools that allow you to cleverly and effectively tap into the power of the whole of Twitter and leverage the consciousness and intelligence of all of the information Tweeting through Twitter's (often stressed) pipelines. You can TRACK a keyword and have every message containing that keyword sent to you. You can SEARCH through the masses of Twitter messages and find all Tweets with a certain keyword. Many of us use these features and tools for vanity checks, and to ensure we don't miss replies and messages intended for us. This is certainly a valid and useful application of tracking and searching within Twitter, but I believe the potential is much, much greater.

Used thoughtfully, the ability to track a keyword across the entirety of the Twitter universe is an awe inspiring and powerful business intelligence tool. As a sampling of the minds and marketplace of a global community, Twitter has it all. Messages are flowing through Twitter that are representative of the real-time pulse of different ages, locales, professions, economics and tastes, covering politics, entertainment, technology, health, fashion, news, gossip and just about any imaginable topic. With proper tracking and searching Twitter can perhaps provide the most current and accurate look at interests and trends that has ever been so widely and easily available.

As a practical example, I have been using Twitter to stay on top of trends and potential competitors for Myxer. My tool of choice is TweetScan, a great site that lets me set a keyword search within Twitter and create an RSS feed for the search results. I set up a TweetScan search for "Ringtone" and now every Tweet containing the word shows up in my Google Reader. It has been a fascinating and useful experiment. Through these random "ringtone" tweets I have discovered three potential business competitors I had never encountered or heard of before. I have found opportunities to join relevant conversations where introducing Myxer to the mix was beneficial and appreciated. I get a continuous take on what is popular, liked and disliked from an amazing mix of people who innocently comment about ringtones. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. For businesses and marketers, Twitter may well provide the ultimate focus group and landscape for competitive analysis.


There have been a lot of creative and clever uses of Twitter popping up and "Twitter Intelligence" is just one of many examples of how Twitter can provide valuable feedback. During time sensitive events such as political debates and even the Superbowl, Twitter has been a focal point for insightful, real-time feedback.

How are you using Twitter Intelligence to your advantage? What tools and services do you use to maximize how Twitter helps you?

Please add your thoughts and ideas to the comments. With your help and knowledge (and Twitter's) I will continue to be less of a moron!

Photo Credit: Stephen VanHorn -