All A-Twitter About the Social Web

When I was invited to speak on mobile search, advertising, and SEO at ThinkMobile, a new mobile industry conference in New York this March, I expected it (like the majority of mobile events I have attended over the last months) to focus on technology issues first and the potential impact on how we live and work second.

Maybe it was because this was an inaugural event, or because Matthew Snyder, ThinkMobile conference chair and founder, and CEO of ADObjects, a strategic cross-media consultancy, drew from 20 years experience at companies (including Nokia) to compile an eclectic mix of professionals and practitioners to explore issues at the intersection of our digital and physical worlds. Whatever the reason, this mobile event pushed the boundaries, yet it eventually came full circle to focus on how content—and its creators—are destined to play a much larger role in how we live our connected lives.
Unsurprisingly (since many speakers and attendees were still super-charged from being at SXSW Interactive, a social media conference in Austin, Texas, held in the days just prior to ThinkMobile), much of this discussion centered on Twitter, the must-use social media tool growing at the astounding rate of a million users per month that allows us to create, access, and, most importantly, organize content in new ways.

Indeed, the spread of the hash tags (using “#” before a word in a post in order to tag it) and the emergence of a “directory” created by and powered by people (although you can get a complete list of words that have been tagged on Twitter, there is no formal directory) signals a seismic shift in how we create and distribute content. In fact, many of us update our online sites and blogs directly to Twitter. Many more are trading in RSS feeds to follow the long tail of self-organizing, organic news and content feeds flourishing on Twitter.

Twitter’s clean look, exemplary usability, and open APIs have already paved the way for developers to introduce new content concepts around news, information, and buzz. And once the news travels (perhaps via Twitter) that it is easy and inexpensive to develop on Twitter (a lot less than the $25,000-plus you’d have to pay to develop an iPhone app), the trickle of Twitter-based services will surely become a tidal wave of offerings that range from news and media monitoring to innovative ways to organize the massive flow of information.

One company early out of the gates is StockTwits, which calls itself an “open, community-powered investment idea and information service.” According to Howard Lindzon, StockTwits co-founder, the cutting-edge social stock microblogging service represents a new way to listen in on what traders and investors are talking about at any moment to monitor trends. If you choose, you can also contribute to the conversation for the greater good of the investment community or to build a reputation (and following) as a financial expert.

It’s early days for Twitter-centric content services, and even earlier when it comes to the business models that will drive them forward. However, I’m convinced that advertisers—if they get it right—have an important role to play. Combine a medium that engages people with the desire of brands to engage in two-way conversations. Now add the ability of people to spread the word on the brands they like the most, and we have all the pieces to puzzle out a number of new monetization models.

And it doesn’t have to stop there. The event shed important light on other cross-media social networks gathering traction by empowering people to create and distribute content to a community most likely to appreciate it. Among these are Whrrl, a storytelling application developed by Pelago, Inc. for the web and for mobile phones that lets people share and remember their experiences as they happen; Rummble, a location-based discovery tool and social search/social media platform developed by the U.K. firm of the same name, that lets people express themselves (in “Rummbles”) and learns who you trust to deliver relevant Rummbles; and GyPSii, a division of Scandinavian mobile company GeoSolutions, which offers a suite of device and network-neutral applications that combine location, social networking, search, and Web 2.0 technologies.

As I’ve said before: We are all publishers. With social networks such as Twitter, we have the foundation for a new ecosystem in which individuals, content companies, and even brands can create new content and new ways to organize information in our socially internetworked world.