Twitter = TMI?

TwitterWe love to talk, as marketers, about the connective power of mobile. It’s an intimate, always-on, always-with-you device that means you’re never alone in this big, scary world.But given the direction that mobile social networking seems to be going, people are beginning to wonder if that’s actually such a bad thing…

Getting the most press right now is a little mobile app called “Twitter”—one of several growing services, including Google-owned Dodgeball, that tie together instant messaging, social networking, and wireless communication. Essentially, Twitter allows members to use their cellphones (or PCs) to distribute short messages on what they’re doing to their group lists. Each message is limited to 140 characters, but there are no limits on how many messages a user can send. Meaning I now get to hear about how yummy your lunch is. As you’re chewing it.

Like most social networking sites, once a person opens a Twitter account, they can invite their friends to join or connect with existing members. Each member also gets a personal Web page that logs all their posts, and can specify whether they want to be alerted by SMS or an instant message on their computer when friends post updates.

To be sure, some people are using their communicative powers for good: Presidential candidate John Edwards, for instance, is using Twitter to keep his voter-base apprised of his speaking and appearance schedule. (A recent Edwards post: “Left Houston this morning. Holding a community meeting on healthcare in Council Bluffs, Iowa today. Des Moines tonight.”).

Professional bloggers are getting in on the game, too. Former Microsoft Corp. blogger Robert Scoble is probably the best-known (and most prolific) “Twit,” while the crew over at Web 2.0 blog Mashable is also making a name for themselves. According to the recently-launched service Twitterholic.com, which tracks the top 100 Twits, Mashable is now the worlds 45th biggest Twit, and gaining.

Which leads us to the downside. Indeed, here in the Information Age, a big—and increasingly bigger—part of the job is filtering out the music from the noise. We’ve got Google to do that for us on Web searches, no problem. But what about a service like Twitter, which offers no such protection from interruptive, inane, and ultimately irrelevant alerts about workers’ boredom in staff meetings and whatever cute thing the cat just did.

So as users are confronted with check-in messages at odd hours and sky-high texting bills, they’re starting to find polite ways to say they’re feeling a little too connected. Such as, say, unceremoniously dropping abusers from their group lists. The aforementioned Mr. Scoble, who is linked to more than 1,000 friends on the site, perhaps characterized the situation best, joking that “Twitter hate is the new black.”

Still, the too-much-information complaint isn’t unique to Twitter. Dodgeball, which lets users in 22 cities send group messages telling others where they’re hanging out, has spurred similar issues. Many have caught considerable heat after sending alcohol-fueled strings of late-night messages to their network, or posting messages from places that aren’t identifiable meeting spots (e.g., “my boyfriend’s car”).

“We get some people who get very chatty,” said Dodgeball co-founder Dennis Crowley, who became a product manager at Google when the search giant acquired the service in May 2005. While it’s designed for updates around venues and “rendezvous-style behavior,” he said, he avoids telling members how they should and shouldn’t use it.

So allow me to summarize, by way of an old bit of wisdom we’ve all experienced at some point in a relationship: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”