Twitter has surpassed 200 million monthly active users. This is a nearly 50% increase over where it was at the beginning of 2012. Since its original rise in the public eye back in 2007, Twitter has become a brand synonymous with personal and corporate branding, communicating with peers, and sharing your latest news and ideas with the world.
With numbers like these, the question as to where the social giant can go from here is becoming increasingly relevant. It remains a relatively simple social network despite efforts to refine and improve the service over the past few years. Twitter has gained image integration, a more controlled API, and most recently, it grants users the ability to download their tweets for safe keeping.
Even with these changes, Twitter’s usefulness still rests largely in the hands of its users. That’s a common sentiment among social networks, but it’s especially true on a network that provides little more than a data stream of status updates, links, and images by a user’s friends and acquaintances on the Web. You don’t have any interactive games to play, integrated photo albums, groups, or live video chat features to take advantage of. You’re still basically stuck with the same 140 character limit on status updates the service started with over five years ago.
Perhaps Twitter doesn’t really need to change. It works fine just the way it is.
Twitter’s strength is in its simplicity. At a glance, you can catch up with friends and explore links to long-form posts and information hosted elsewhere. It’s a hub of information in which users can find out what someone is up to without having to visit personal blogs or company websites individually. You see the status update and move on. A link will take you where you need to go, but no real effort is required on your part.
Police, fire, and other emergency departments around the world are quickly embracing Twitter as an alternative form of communication. During Hurricane Sandy, Twitter played a big role in the support of victims affected by the storm. A recent story on CNN attributes Twitter and Facebook for changing the face of grassroots relief efforts.
Fire departments, including London’s historic Fire Brigade, are beginning to use Twitter to both inform the public of present dangers and receive distress calls from users unable to make a regular phone call to emergency lines. In the event of a natural disaster, phone lines are typically unavailable as they become quickly flooded with activity in addition to damages that might weaken support in the area. If someone is able to manage a data connection, sending a tweet is a quick way to call for help and inform people you know that you’re OK.
Major world events such as Arab Spring are largely attributed to the proliferation of social media. Entire social movements can be created and managed on networks like Twitter, and it’s because of this that these simple social networks are becoming such an important part of a modern world.
If someone were to ask me if Twitter has become more useful, I’d say absolutely. Its usefulness is largely dependent on the user base and how those users choose to use the network. How about you? Do you find Twitter to be more useful than it was five years ago, less useful, or just useful enough? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.