Twitter’s transmitters: the magic of 140 characters

From a special report on social networking in the 28 January print edition of The Economist with more links to more stories available by looking atthestoryBiz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, uses the term “social alchemy” to describe the way in which short, seemingly inconsequential 140-character messages are often transformed into something of real value. Imagine, he says, that you are having a drink at an airport bar waiting to catch your flight. You send out a tweet explaining where you are and what you are drinking. Perhaps you get no response. But it is also possible that a friend who is “following” you on Twitter happens to be in the airport at the same time, sees your tweet and comes over to say hello. Thus what would otherwise have been a solitary moment is magically transformed into a pleasant encounter.Such serendipity helped Twitter attract 58m web visitors in October last year, according to comScore. Recently its growth appears to have faltered in America, but the service is still expanding in countries such as Japan and Germany. This has led to speculation that it could eventually make a dent in Facebook’s fortunes, even though size-wise it is not in the same league. Those who see a looming clash note that both companies are in the business of helping people to share information, and both have a real-time element to their services.

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