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Internet Atwitter About Twitter

The Twitter blogging service is exploding in popularity, as twitterers fill each other in on what they're having for breakfast and where they're meeting up to party. But is it actually useful?

Twitter is useful in organizing get-togethers -- especially social gatherings -- around big events, like a conference or a pro baseball game.

Scoble has been on Twitter for about a month, but he only saw its possible greater usefulness after the San Francisco earthquake earlier this month, when he saw San Francisco area residents using Twitter to share information.

Scoble, a Bay Area resident, said, "I didn't even know there was an earthquake. I was somewhere else -- it might have been Geneva -- and I saw on Twitter that people were talking about it," he said. Actually, Scoble was in Salt Lake City, according to a message time-stamped 9:48 pm March 1 in the Twitter archive.

Scoble added: "It could be useful in the case of a terrorist attack or disaster, to compare notes or experience. It's a good way to tell a group of people how to get good information."

Forrester analyst and Twitter user Charlene Li (who came up with the pun "twittering about Twitter") says the service isn't just a fad. "But it's really isolated to a small group of people who, for whatever reason, are motivated to let everyone in the world know what they are doing," she says. "Most people are not like Robert Scoble, where they wear their lives on their sleeve and are more comfortable telling people what's going on. "

Twitter is potentially quite useful to let very small groups of co-workers, friends, and family communicate. "My Mom would really want to do this," she says.

Twitter needs more granular controls to allow people better ability to control who reads their own messages, and which messages from other people they're reading, Li says.

"Their biggest problem right now is they've got to scale. The system is already slowing down in the last two weeks; they have to stay on top of keeping the lights on and making this thing work," she says.

Twitter parent company Obvious is working on keeping up with growing demand for Twitter, as well as adding new sharing and privacy features.

Twitter runs on Ruby on Rails, MySQL, and Jabber, Williams says.

Twitter launched publicly in July, after four months. It was a sidelight for the parent company, Obvious. The main product was Odeo, a podcasting service. Obvious is looking to sell the podcasting service.

Internet applications have a history of starting out as sidelines, then taking over the parent company. Williams's previous company, Pyra, started out developing project management tools, and developed Blogger as a sideline. Ludicorp developed the Flickr photo-sharing service as a sideline of their main business, an online game that was shelved when Flickr took off.

Williams, 34, co-founded Pyra in 1999, and stayed at Google for 20 months after selling the company to the search engine. He left to co-found Odeo, where he was CEO, raised venture capital for that company in early 2005, and then formed Obvious in 2006 and bought the assets of Odeo from investors.

Obvious, with a staff of 10, is designed to be a "creative product development lab," a place for developing new Web products, Williams says. When these products mature, they might continue to be run by Obvious, or might be spun out to independent companies. The vision is similar to an incubator, except that the goal is not to build companies, but rather to build Web products.