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Twitter buzz gets a status update

It seems as if almost three years after its legendary debut at SXSW Interactive, the popular microblogging service Twitter has reached a second or third hype cycle.

Henry Chilcott

Not only because a surgery conducted via Twitter made headlines the other day, Twitter is all the buzz (again). And it seems as if almost three years after its now-legendary debut at South by Southwest Interactive, the popular microblogging service has reached the second (or third) hype cycle, entering the business and media mainstream as the ultimate narrow--and broadcast--network.

As Joel Comm, CEO of InfoMedia and author of "Twitter Power," points out:

It's like the old saying, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." People who use Twitter as only a broadcast system are missing out on 95 percent of its benefits...It's about staying top of mind.

If a brand was to run an ad campaign, and it reached only 1,000 people, it wouldn't be doing so well, but a brand can do very well with 1,000 followers on Twitter because of who they are, and how conversions can reverberate within the community and outside the community.

Consequently, everyone's writing about Twitter again (on and off Twitter), but the conversation orientation has shifted from "what is it?" to "how to"--a sure sign that it will not experience the same slow decline as "Second Life."

A new Pew study on "Twitter and Status Updating" discovers that Twitter users tend to be younger and more mobile than the general Internet population. They also consume more news through the Internet and tend to engage in social activities online differently than everyone else.

The report further says the average Twitter user is "overwhelmingly young," though the average age of a Twitter user is slightly higher than users of most other social-networking services. (Twitter's median age is 31, while Facebook's is 26, and MySpace's is 27.)

Nearly one in five (19 percent) of online adults ages 18 and 24 have ever used Twitter and its ilk, as have 20 percent of online adults 25 to 34. Use of these services drops off steadily after age 35, with 10 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds and 5 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds using Twitter. The decline is even starker among older Internet users: 4 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds and 2 percent of those 65 and older use Twitter.

Yet these numbers are likely to change, as Ars Technica predicts:

Given another few years, it won't be surprising to see widespread Twitter use spread to older and more general Internet users in the same way text messaging has spread to parents and families.

In fact, Twitter often only involves sending an SMS in the first place--maybe some of those parents can keep the momentum going after texting their kids, and start sending updates to Twitter, while they're at it.

The Pew study indicates that there will not only be opportunities for vertical twittering geared toward professionals (Yammer) but also for services tailored to certain age groups: think of a Twitter for seniors to stay in touch with their children and grandchildren as the next killer app.

And then there is what you could call moderated twittering--in other words, attempts to tame the conversation monster for the sake of attracting advertisers. Glam Media monetized its feed for the Academy Awards by offering marketers the chance to sponsor a filtered or edited version of the message stream during the awards ceremony.

As VentureBeat notes, the ad network's editors chose which tweets showed up in the stream and purged those that were inappropriate or off-topic, making it safer for brand advertisers. Aveeno sponsored the Oscars Twitter widget; Glam says it plans to expand the service, dubbed gWire, to include FriendFeed and Facebook streams for future events.

Other innovative ways of twittering can be found in the realm of visualization. Elizabeth Baranik, for example, points out how the ASAE Great Ideas Conference used Twitterfountain for a visually richer feed.

The medium is new, but the challenge is old: it's all about being different. Attention is the currency of any online (and offline) social interaction, and on Twitter, being retweeted is the "sincerest form of flattery," as AlwaysOn puts it (while also providing some suggestions as to how to achieve that).

In the fast, new Twitter, ergo sum world, the formula goes: the more popular your status updates, the higher your social status.