Putting Twitter’s World To Use

The New York Times:

The first reaction many people have to Twitter is befuddlement.

Why would they want to read short messages about what someone ate for breakfast?

It’s a reasonable question. Twitter unleashes the diarist in its 14 million users, who visited its site 99 million times last month to read posts tapped out with cellphones and computers.

But taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood. By tapping into the world’s collective brain, researchers of all kinds have found that if they make the effort to dig through the mundane comments, the live conversations offer an early glimpse into public sentiment – and even help them shape it.

Corey Menscher, a graduate student at New York University, developed the Kickbee, an elastic band with vibration sensors that his pregnant wife wore to alert Twitter each time the baby kicked: “I kicked Mommy at 08:52 PM on Fri, Jan 2!” Mr. Menscher is now considering selling the product.

Pairing sensors with Twitter leads some to think Twitter could be used to send home security alerts or tell doctors when a patient’s blood sugar or heart rate climbs too high. In the aggregate, such real-time data streams could aid medical researchers.

Martin Stoll, the founder of an online travel company, realized Twitter could be an on-the-go, living guidebook for tourists. He created the Portland Twisitor Center, where thousands of people ask where to find the best brunch spot or coffee house and receive instant responses from the center’s officials and anyone else who wants to answer them.

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Photo by Twitter.

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