An interesting writeup by Gregor Hochmuth on the Twitter model, a must read if you are keen on starting your own microblogging service with ReVou:
Twitter isn’t for everyone, and you may have dismissed the service a long time ago. But regardless of your own use, it’s hard to dismiss the phenomenon itself and the passion of so many that has built up around it.
No matter how long the outage du jour, Twitter users continue to stay attached to the service despite an ever-changing backdrop of alternatives.
Blogging isn’t for everyone either. But unlike blogging, Twitter enjoys a far a greater variety of users — they include people, many people, who would never think of starting a blog and people who would never touch an RSS reader. The 140 character limit is a plus for Twitter, but it isn’t all.
What explains the Twitter phenomenon then? What produces the positive feeling and the strong attachment among those who tweet? And moreover: How can other systems learn from this?
The answer lies in understanding Audience.
Twitter has a simple premise: You tweet & the message is pushed to your friends. The actual mechanics are slightly different (messages go to everyone who follows you, whether they’re your “friends” or not, assuming your stream is public) — but from a user’s perspective, the circle of receivers consists only of the people they know. Everyone else is part of a faceless crowd that’s hidden behind the follower count.
This simple premise holds the key to Twitter’s success: messages go to a well-defined audience. In the moment you release a tweet, you know who’s on the line and you have an idea of who can catch a glimpse of your message. @replies are the best illustration for this sense of audience: Even though Twitter is not a point-to-point message delivery system (let alone a reliable one), @replies are sent with the understanding that they will be read by the intended people because they are known to be in the audience. (Imagine a newspaper article that suddenly greeted a specific reader.)
Blogging on the other hand has no such clearly defined audience. An aspiring blogger who hasn’t crossed the chasm speaks into the void. Direct feedback can only come in the form of written comments (a relatively high barrier of effort) and it’s diminished by spam and vocal trolls these days.
FeedBurner’s subscriber count only provides the equivalent of Twitter’s opaque follower count and MyBlogLog didn’t solve this problem either.
So it’s not surprising that the majority of blogs are abandoned — the most-cited reason being “No one was reading it.” No one might be following your Twitter stream either, but Twitter is designed for network effects to take hold and given the natural reciprocity among groups of friends, it’s likely that most people have at least a handful of followers they know.
Back to Twitter: Why Audience works
Twitter works and enjoys such strong attachment because it provides real-time access to a well-defined audience. The backlog of all previous tweets is a guarantee of permanence (you can even search it) and you can catch up on it anytime. As a result, people use Twitter because they have an idea of who will see their lightweight messages and this sense of audience is reinforced by @replies, re-tweets and references in future conversations (online and offline).
Designing for the sense of Audience is a powerful tool to create cohesion and a sense of utility among users of a service. This lesson from Twitter can apply to many other services too and I dedicated a separate post to the principles of designing for Audience.
In closing, let me also refer you to a follow-on post, which looks one service that has missed the full power of Audience so far: Facebook. Designed for Audience? Not so much.