Twittering for food: A great app finds a commercial use

In a recent Reuters article on Twitter, author Lisa Baertlein explores the emerging phenomenon of Twittering restaurants. Apparently, an increasing number of eateries are using the micro-messaging site to draw customers, offer specials, and creatively extend their marketing reach.

In many ways, Twitter is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. While there might have been a few forward-thinkers who were desperately looking for a way to exchange 140-character messages with total strangers, the fact is that, for most people, tweeting is not the culmination of a lifelong ambition or pressing need.

This isn't to say that Twitter isn't fun: the simple, prosaic comments, not unlike little haiku, sometimes offer poetic glimpses into the lives of others. The extremely short length requires that writers sometimes push words together or remove articles and conjunctions, leading to a writing style that resembles 19th-century telegrams with a touch of 1970s album names. My pal Sara, for example, recently tweeted "rainy morning coffee with my mother then will see friends carter and anita & their 2 little girls for the day." She later added, "no rivenrock or arboretum this time . . . birds are singing in the fog, though."

I wouldn't necessarily describe Sara as a poet, although she certainly has a way with words. However, these little glimpses into her life are evocative, especially when I miss Southwest Virginia, where Sara lives and where I used to make my home. Other sites, like Twistori, take this to another level, aggregating the raw emotion of Twitter and sending it forth in a never-ending flow of feeling that readers can tap into.

Still, Twitter has yet to provide a marketable service, which means that, in a very real way, it has yet to secure its continued existence. Most tech gurus seem to agree that its extreme "Web 2.0-ness" makes it very promising, but promise doesn't equal survival. Some bastions of old media, like The New York Times (NYT), use it to direct traffic to their stories, and Burger King's (BKC) chatty "BK Lounge" offers a playful, counter-cultural face to the chain's customers. However, these intrusions of old commerce are surprisingly tentative. More to the point, they are free, and exist on a level playing field alongside the tweets of millions of non-commercial civilians. That is, while established companies are paying employees to write tweets, Twitter isn't getting a share of the proceeds.

The emergent restaurant marketing trend on Twitter could easily point the way to a workable model for the company. Subscription-based Twitter feeds could provide -- or at least aggregate -- a lot of services that are currently in search of an effective, centralized delivery system. For example, programs to help motorists find parking spaces or cell phone-based coupon sites could both be a good fit for the platform, and might be the kinds of services that users would be willing to pony up cash for. Perhaps, with a little bit of imagination, Twitter might find the problem that it was built to solve.

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