I’ve been using dodgeball for a while now, and as the reports of other one-to-many SMS services came in I thought, “Why would I need that when I can just send shoutouts?” I would probably have happily ignored them all if my curiosity hadn’t been piqued by Twitter. Specifically, the fact that it was founded by Ev (who is invariably interesting and frequently surprising) and that a number of dodgeball users turned out to be also using it. Now that I’ve taken Twitter out for a test drive, I’ve noticed several things that make it really different.
The most obvious thing is that it isn’t location-specific. Limiting messages to friends in a specific city is perfect for what dodgeball is designed to do, which is coordinating your social life. After all, knowing where my friends are in New York doesn’t help me plan my Friday night in San Francisco. But what if I just want to share a quick anecdote or something funny or a random thought? That’s got nothing to do with where we are physically, so sending my message only to friends in the same city is pointlessly limiting.
That said, the most significant difference has nothing to do with the technology. It’s the way that Twitter is actually used, which has more to do with who is using it and what they believe it’s for than with what it can do. I tried to describe this to friends at dinner the other night, and after a few minutes of my stuttering and throwing out random examples somebody said, “So it’s like LiveJournal for text.” That’s really the best explanation I’ve heard, although Twitter isn’t limited to SMS. It’s moblogging LJ-style for people (myself included) who probably would not otherwise blog things that inconsequential or personal or random. Check out the public timeline and you’ll see what I mean. It’s also compulsively addictive, in the same way so many social software services create a kind of positive feedback loop.
Based on my limited experience I’d guess that other services could easily fill different niches, again not because the technology is so different but because the way the community uses it is. If Twitter is the LJ of moblogging, then surely there’s room for the LinkedIn and the Facebook too. As each service matures and finds its community of users I’m sure we’ll see the technology differentiate more and more to meet the demands of that community, but what is fascinating to me is to watch how driven by the initial adopters these future changes really are.