If last year’s SXSW was Twitter’s coming out party, this year it achieved utility status.  A utility is something that is always on, and essential.  To lose it would be to thrust yourself into the dark ages.  Water, electricity, gas … and Twitter.  Sound like an exaggeration?  Not for anyone who has spent the last few days watching the incessant live twittering at SXSW.  Because not every reader is as tricked out in extreme geekdom as those at SXSW, here’s a brief description of Twitter:

It is a tool that allows you to broadcast your answer to the simple question, "what are you doing?," through writing a short 140 character text message.  That message is posted online where a group of individuals that are "following" you can see it.  Following someone is the equivalent in Twitter language of becoming their friend of Facebook.  Popular Twitterers have several thousand followers.  Through this steady stream of updates, at an event like SXSW, you can watch the live pulse of the event and what people think about it real time.  So, without further ado, here are the reasons why Twitter rocks and sucks simultaneously at SXSW.

Why It Rocks:

  1. Helps you decide where to go. SXSW is a huge tradeshow and knowing which panel to attend or which party to spend 30 minutes (or longer) waiting in line for is not easy.  By watching what your Twitter friends are saying online about these events, you can decide where to go real time based on the feedback of the community.  It is the ultimate live rating tool that allows you to make an informed decision about how to spend your time.  In the evenings, as the "official" SXSW parties had lines around the block, just about everyone used Twitter to create their owh "flash parties" at other bars and locations around Austin.  The best?  Easily Gary Vaynerchuck (of WineLibraryTV) organizing a flash party in the lobby of the Marriott with free wine.  Within 30 minutes, he drew more than 100 people to the spot, gave aways lots of wristbands and free wine, and got the party busted by the cops.  Free wine rocks.
  2. Allows you to ask a question to everyone without spamming. Why is this important?  Well, in any other medium, in order to get an answer to a question, you need to ask someone.  Even in a good community you can ask a subset of people.  The problem with this is that sometimes you are not sure who has the answer.  For example, I needed to know the address of a party.  Am I really going to send a mass email to everyone I know asking for that?  Of course not.  But putting out a Twitter message (known as a "Tweet") about it allows me to invite anyone from the community to provide an answer.  And usually I can get one from an unexpected source (that I may never have otherwise thought to ask) within a few minutes.
  3. Let’s you be like God (all seeing).  Whether or not you believe in God, most people say he (or she) is all knowing and all seeing.  To me, that means knowing everything that is going on everywhere and what everyone is thinking.  Twitter is a way of doing that in real time.  You may not have a question or need to get a particular piece of information, but the stream of real time reports from across the event allows you to know about everything as it happens.

Why It Sucks:

  1. Destroys "real" conversations. At many parties or other events with some high profile Twitter users, they are spending so much time updating the community and answering direct posts that they forget about the moment and individuals that are around them in real life.  From sending a Twitter update to someone across the room (rather than talking to them) to focusing on Twittering about a conversation rather than actually having it … overuse of Twitter can destroy real life conversations and I saw this happen more than once at various points during the show.
  2. Turns individuals into nothing more than a user ID. With everyone on Twitter, the first question many people would ask one another when meeting was what their Twitter ID name was.  Though this is certainly a form of connecting, it doesn’t tend to tell you as much about someone as, say, asking where they work, or what they like to do in their spare time.  Each of us has a story to tell beyond our Twitter ID, and some people didn’t get past it.  Luckily, I’m relatively safe because my Twitter ID is just my full name (rohitbhargava).  Imagine if it was "personalitynotincluded" and I didn’t get a chance to explain that this was the name of my book?  I probably wouldn’t come out too well. 
  3. Encourages ranting rather than reasoning. One of the problems with the short length of Tweets, and the speed with which you can post them is that the model encourages you to rant with a thought of the moment rather than taking a second to offer a reasoned thought or point of view.  As a result, sometimes the quality suffers.  Of course, this varies from person to person, but on the whole there are many people who might post opinions or thoughts in a Tweet that they would never share either in real life or on their own blog.  The challenge is to maintain a high enough editorial standard for yourself in Twitter as you might elsewhere.  There are lots of Twitter users who fail miserably at this, which makes Twitter suck.

For those either at SXSW or just users of Twitter who are not at the show, what do you think?  Discuss (here or on Twitter).