Twitter Break: Unexpected Use Cases, Search

I read a couple Twitter news items today that interested me.

First was an interesting TED talk from Twitter co-founder and CEO, Evan Williams. It’s embedded below, if you’re reading on theappslab. If you’re not, click through and have a look. It’s only eight minutes, so not a major time spend.

The title caught my attention right away because: 1) I’ve always found the most value in Twitter outside “micro-blogging” and 2) I find the unintentional uses for a service are often clever and interesting.

As a product manager, it’s fun to see how people use your product. One struggle I’ve always had with waterfall development is racking my brain for all the possible test cases, even the least likely corner cases. It’s impossible to determine how each and every user will use (correctly or not) your product.

This is why I’ve come to prefer agile development because it exposes a product to users earlier, allowing unexpected use cases to emerge. Many times, these use cases evolve into major features and selling points.

Using Connect as an example, we recently reintroduced personal status. It was in the first version, then it fell out of the second one, and we didn’t have time to add it back, what with working on Mix, etc.

The third version of Connect integrates with OraTweet, including status. Connect has a lot more users now than it did in its first version, so not surprisingly, new use cases pop up a lot. One of which was using status as an out-of-the-office message.

We had toyed with tying IM presence to a profile to create a personal presence, but in hindsight, this was a much easier way to do it. We were overthinking it, but the idea had merit, which a few people discovered on their own, independently of one another.

And through the beauty of watching the firehose activity log, I found this use case, neither of the people who did this were in my network.

Evan doesn’t mention Twitter as search, which leads me to the second nugget, which came via friend of the ‘Lab from Dan McCall, fittingly over Twitter.

We had a pretty lively discussion about social search last month, here (and here) and over to Bex’s place. I use Twitter to answer lots of questions that I used to use Google to answer. So, for me, this Greasemonkey script written by Mark Carey is a welcome feature.

The script adds recent Twitter search results to the top of any Google keyword search, as well as a link to the keyword search on Twitter search. Pretty sweet.

Here’s an example. The DEMO 09 show is going on right now, and if I search Google for “demo”, I see the following:

Realtime Twitter Search Results on Google via Greasemonkey script

Definitely something I’ll use. I’m not sure what will show if the script doesn’t return any recent results. Looks like the threshold is about a week old or so. The script takes a second to load the Twitter results, which is why I’m sure it only comes back with very recent tweets.

Even if the script reminds me to check Twitter, it’s a win for me to just combine the two searches into a single page.

Anyway, very cool stuff. Sound off in the comments on unexpected use cases, Twitter, social search, whatever.




  1. Jake: like you, I'm really fascinated by the unintended ways people use products. I especially liked the foodmobile that twittered where they were at any given time, as a way to get an instant customer line.

    What I find frustrating about Twitter is the pressure to “keep up” with the people you're following, and the amount of time you have to invest to find the good stuff. I'm pretty judicious about who I follow, but even then I'd guess I only find 1 out of 15 tweets as something I'm glad I saw.

    I suppose you can argue that if I don't like my signal to noise ratio, I should stop spending so much time on Twitter. 🙂 But I do find Twitter search pretty useful in any case.

  2. I read about that taco(?) truck that tweeted. Great marketing idea.

    My use of Twitter has changed a lot since I started, especially now that more people are on it. I don't keep up and haven't for a while. I drop in and out on what I care about (using TweetDeck groups) and converse around that.

    Otherwise, I use it for conversations. I do keep up with @ replies to me though.

    Search and discovery/trending are my newest uses. Good stuff goes on in there that's really interesting and unfiltered. It's great for breaking news too, and not just the really big news either.

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