Twitter is of course a very trendy webapp. Unlike so may other trendy webapps, Twitter has turned out to be very useful to me. The lead designer of the software project I work on lives and works in Edinburgh, while I am based in Orkney. Neither of us are great users of the telephone: we both prefer asynchronous means of communication. So Instant Messaging (Google Talk), our Traction wiki, Newsgator clippings and email have been our channels of communication. However, since my colleague works somewhat unpredictable hours – not to mention having a somewhat unreliable internet connection – I often find it difficult to know what he’s up to and what his immediate plans are.

Our first attempt to solve this problem was to use the status display in Google Talk. This didn’t quite work for 2 reasons. (1) Network problems sometimes made it look like he was at his desk when he wasn’t. (2) He could only update his status when he was actually at his desk. Oh yes, and (3) Gtalk doesn’t prompt to change the message so it’s easily forgotten.

Twitter addresses all these problems. It can use any of IM, mobile phone text messaging (SMS), email, newsfeeds or the web to keep you informed about what your colleagues are doing. It’s very simple to use. You are limited to 140 characters for your latest message so the messages don’t overwhelm. You can receive or send updates from your phone so it’s always available, whether you’re at your desk or not. It will even send you a prompt if you haven’t updated your status for a while. An unexpected side-benefit for me is that the message history becomes a way of filling in my time sheet at the end of the week! It’s even free, at least for now and provided you don’t get more than 250 SMSes in one week.

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