With all the recent attention twitter.com has received many people have asked what the relevance of such a service is to the average user? Twitter is very popular among the early adopter tech crowd, but why would people who use their computers less than 20 hours per week ever have a need for such a service? In other words, how can Twitter benefit non-profit organizations, public institutions or everyday business? More importantly how can Twitter benefit the average person and become more useful than it is trendy?
Here are some ideas I had as for how embracing a ‘twitter-like’ service could benefit more than just the over-ambitious blogging crowd. These applications could be built using Twitter or any other microblog service. What I’m trying to do is demonstrate how developers can capitalize on the popularity of Twitter and possibly push it to the point of ubiquity (like Google).
- Tracking Packages from FedEx, UPS and other Postage Services.
Just the other day I waited all morning for an important package to be delivered, constantly refreshing the FedEx tracking webpage to see what the latest updates were. It was actually my girlfriend who pointed out, “..too bad they don’t have Twitter!” which caused me to think about such a scenario. If shipping companies did employ service like Twitter, it would allow me to stay constantly updated to the progress of my packages. If I didn’t have access to a computer for instance, I could have the tracking updates forwarded to my cell phone or mobile device. The driver of the shipping truck would update status by simply waving a wand across his packages and typing in his location, expected delays or ETA. Far fetched? Not at all, this exactly how tracking info is gathered right now. What’s missing is an application that would turn these updates into messages or ‘tweets’.
- Amber Alerts/Emergency Awareness/Public Service Announcements
So the state or federal government has a public menace that they need to make the public aware of. They often use traditional media (TV, radio) as well as some localized metods (highway LED Signs) but they’re notorious for ignoring the medium with the biggest audience of them all…the internet. In fact, if the government were to contract Twitter to relay these alerts it would be mutually advantageous as Twitter could send the occasional emergency alert to it’s users site-wide while the authorities could potentially reach new segments of the populous.
You might recall a few years ago MySpace became a testing ground for this very type of collaboration.
- Film and Music Product Release Dates
For all the paranoia that new media is stealing public attention from old media, there aren’t very many traditional outlets taking advantage of what control they do still have left. For instance, why does every record label or major film distributor not have Twitter accounts? Most of us actually want to know when that new album from our favorite artist is released. I’m also twice as likely to follow a companies’ Twitter stream than to join their newsletter. Of course ,the next step would be to offer a way to filter out all the stuff that I DON’T want to be notified of.
- GPS Breadcrumbs with Notes
Say you’re a professional runner, national park sentry or hiking enthusiast and you’re hiking along a very rarely used trail. Perhaps you then notice that a bridge is washed out or you see some other danger you want to make people more aware of. You might pull out a GPS cacheing unit, geo tag the location, type a quick note about the incident and either store the message to be sent later or send it via satellite immediately. The people in your community or your colleagues following you would then have all the information they need to avoid the same area and teams could be sent out to rectify the problem.
- Sport Scores
For you sports enthusiasts out there, if there was a way to get score updates that you’re interested in without having to check the paper the next morning or various websites, would you be interested? Similar to the application described in #3, if the end user could pick a handful of sport teams that they love and have those new scores appear in his or her Twitter stream (which can also ping your mobile device) it would save quite a bit of time. The user would also need to be able to easily deactivate certain teams or games, for those times when they’ve TIVO’ed it and don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Often times in the school system, grades and test scores don’t necessarily need to be kept confidential. In those cases, wouldn’t it be great if a student could ping a dedicated Twitter account with their name as a hashtag (ex. #jongos) and get a response back with their scores? Alternatively pinging the account with a #all hastag would retrieve a link to a page with all the grades of their classmates and would mention if a curve was applied. It would be efficient, save paper and save time.
One of my favorite Twitter applications is twitter.polldaddy.com which allows you to post polls to Twitter. Here’s a real world example: At my condo the HOA often takes votes on various issues: “Should we get a new fence?” “Should we buy that new flood light?” The HOA president could use a service like this to poll our neighbors.
It’s not hard to imagine a world where a Twitter-like service could be used for more official votes like public office or internal company decisions.
- Health Appointment Reminders
Do you have trouble remembering when your next physical is or when you scheduled that next teeth cleaning? While services like Remember the Milk allow you to to create to-do lists and manage tasks, I envision local dentist offices rolling out a service something like this themselves that solely exists to help you manage your appointments. How convenient would it be to receive a Direct Twitter message from a database at your dentist’s clinic reminding you not to be late?
- Home Security
A number of people have their home alarms call them when it goes off. It would be smart for companies like ADT to offer a service that can be set up to text, email and or IM you, all things that Twitter does when prompted. The message could inform you of the time, address (especially useful if you have multiple homes) and the area in the home that was triggered. This of course would be a complimentary service offered in addition to the phone call that’s become the standard and the request to send out police.
- Crash Reports
Lastly, something that might be useful for software developers, especially those using open source applications like Mozilla’s products or Linux, is an application that logs crashes or software bugs. Something like this application created by Kevin except the database would be public. Normally these messages are sent to huge databases where they may or may not be analyzed by engineers at the company that makes the product. I imagine a service that would send these messages to a web database that would take the users notes, along with the crash report and application info, archive them online and make it all searchable.
The big concern of course is security, but that could be easily addressed by only making the most common errors and repair public. Hashtags and Twitter’s search option would allow programmers to find the relevant code.
Companies like Mosio are already harnessing the power of the crowd to answer questions. In his post “5 Ways to Use Twitter For Good”, Chris Brogan explores the possibilities of using the Twitter community to solve problems. This is where we start and as more and more developers build on the Twitter API applications like the ones I’ve described will inevitably come into existence. As they do, and as Twitter’s popularity increases, Twitter will venture closer and closure to that tipping point that will make it a household name for years to come.