Twitter’s great 2010 shows it’s about more than what you had for breakfast

Twitter has added more than 100 million users this year. That’s a pretty extraordinary rate of growth for a company that just a year ago was thought to have peaked.

costolo.jpg Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO

The growth can be partly attributed to Twitter’s smart focus on mobile. The acquisition of Tweetie, for example, the iPhone app that has since been rebranded as simply Twitter, brought a great version of the Twitter experience to smartphones. Since then Twitter has rolled out apps for Android and BlackBerry users too and mobile use has exploded.

Another significant factor in Twitter’s success this year is its emphasis on Twitter as a passive experience. Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder, has spent most of the year explaining that “you don’t have to tweet to be a great Twitter user”.

It’s a message that’s beginning to get through. Whether you want to follow the activities of celebrities or politicians, if you want to see what fans are saying about the football match you’re watching or if you want to catch news headlines as they break, Twitter has become the place to do it.

Newcomers to Twitter are often puzzled about what it’s for. As we wrote a few weeks ago, even its senior staff aren’t clear about what it does. Twitter’s new CEO, Dick Costolo, said: “I am currently trying to define what Twitter’s purpose is in the long term. We will be able to be more specific on that answer in the near future.”

Believe it or not, that sounds like a good thing to me. Part of the reason for Twitter’s success has been the willingness of its founders to let users guide its development. On one level its purpose is very simple: it’s a communications tool. In that sense asking what Twitter is ‘for’ makes as much sense as asking what the telephone is for.

But it can obviously go far beyond the capabilities of the telephone, which is limited to one-to-one conversations. For tapping in to a group, in real time, Twitter is peerless.

Twitter has come a long way this year though, for some, it will always be a ‘boring’ service, useful for nothing more than finding out what a bunch of strangers had for breakfast. It’s clear now, if it wasn’t before, that those people are doing it wrong. As academic Andrew Dubber says: Twitter isn’t stupid – you just have boring friends.

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