I think Robert Scoble said it best. “Yesterday someone challenged me to ‘say something useful’ in Twitter. Has anyone said anything useful in Twitter?”

Will Twitter be crowned the next victor in the messaging category, joining the ranks of e-mail, IM, and RSS? For all its coolness, ease of use, plugged in feeling it delivers - I sure as hell hope not.

Denouncing Twitter as the latest affront to personal and corporate productivity may be a bit dramatic – but after some consideration, I think not. Ok, it hasn’t gotten in anybody’s kitchen with the same flair as a Jeremiah Wright...but it may end up causing some serious damage nonetheless. If Twitter succeeds in capturing the minds of corporate users, we should all buckle up for a bouncy ride. Well, actually, don’t worry about buckling; the ride is going to be mighty slow as our productivity slows to a crawl.

Basex, a business research firm, came out at the end of 2007 with a ‘problem of the year’ – looking into 08. The problem as they saw it, simply put, was Information Overload. They even monetized it to the tune of a $650 billion drag on the US economy. Yes, that’s $650 BILLION…. about 4x the size of the economic stimulus package Bush just shot into the country’s bank accounts.

Recent studies indicate that whether they’re working in offices, cubes or mobile venues, employees devote nearly one-third of their time to email, text messages, instant messages, blogs, wikis and cell-phone calls. Add Twitter to the list of tools that has the ability to interfere with the forward progress of work. Few argue that these tools can boost productivity when properly used. Problem is that what seems proper to some is downright ridiculous to others. Has it become too convenient, enjoyable, or tempting to communicate and interrupt one another? By the way, the folks generating the noise aren’t the only ones to blame. Without people’s voracious appetite to hear the latest piece of gossip or non-critical news, these tools would die on the vine.

The impact of a sub-optimal work pattern has been quantified in a Hewlett-Packard study, which estimates that the average knowledge worker’s IQ drops 10 points when he or she is confronted and overwhelmed by electronic overload in the workplace.

Intel’s researchers confirm these findings and by measuring the cost of interruption. The average knowledge worker can only focus on an individual task for three minutes before a technology-induced interruption intervenes. After being interrupted, it takes a full 25 minutes for the worker to return to the task at hand – and 41 percent of the time he or she never makes it back to the task at all. People are getting smarter about managing interruptions, but the majority still struggle to keep the decks clear and maintain focus.

Another negative impact of Twittering can be seen in the press and analyst community. Before micro-blogging, editors were already under extreme pressure to post blogs and updates to news in real-time. The deadline is always right now, especially in technology circles.

At a recent conference, I neglected to “twitter-proof” my presentation. It was only 5 minutes long, but I had a single slide of background prior to my main message regarding our company’s next release coming up in June. Not 30 seconds into my first few sentences, Twitters showed up online from bloggers aiming to paraphrase the main point of my presentation. Unfortunately (for them) some of their initial observations were contradicted when the second slide appeared. Is that what our conversations and presentations will come down to? Line by line, in the moment critiques shot across the Twitter network? What’s worse – being interrupted or consuming half-cooked commentary on the latest ‘news’?

Remember as a child being read the story, ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’? Maybe I’ll tweak it a bit for my 8 and 5 years old girls to read ‘The Girl Who Twittered Too Much’. It’s about a little girl who goes on and on about what she’s doing every half hour…and guess what, the villagers don’t listen when she actually has something important to say.

UPDATE: February 6, 2009

In the past ten months Twitter has vaulted in popularity. Does it still have the power to interrupt? Sure.  Do I still cringe when I hear someone's phone tweet causing them be them look down and get distracted? Absolutely. 

That said, it has also proven itself as a formidable connecting - market-making - news-breaking machine for which I have a newfound respect.

You (not Twitter) are in the driver's seat with respect to how much you let the service encroach upon or enable your workday - so figure out the right balance for you and extract maximum value.

Here are aspects of Twitter in which I find value:

  1. Ability to listen for company chatter - and in some cases respond  - to questions, concerns, or praise about your company. TIP: generate goodwill by having a point if you hop into a thread. 'Stock participation' is thinly veiled.
  2. Twitter = zero-latency news
  3. Forum for sharing tips, ideas, and updates with customers - check out . We're just getting started with it, but you get the picture.

Be safe. Twitter wisely ;)






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