Today, Twitter took the wraps off a new feature of the site. When logging in, it prompts the user to set defaults on being discovered with their email address or mobile phone number. It's called "Be Found on Twitter". Our contact at Twitter told us that, like many new features, this will show up for some users today and others soon.
Up to this point, Twitter allows people to create a persona for themselves that may not be directly correlated to the real world. You can't do that on Facebook (assuming that you're following the terms and conditions).This change in settings - even if it is optional - represents a shift in how the service is working behind the scenes to connect people that already know each other. Personal data is moving in between the social networks and becoming a key part of cloud services.
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So far, Twitter hasn't offered a way to make this kind of connection easy. We believe the reason this service is being offered now is simple: Twitter wants to take your email inbox and turn it into relationships.
Below is the screen that popped up for Web client users of Twitter that are being offered this enhancement. (Note: Those are my personal email and mobile phone digits, but I chose to opt-out of the service. In case you want to contact me, email is still an option.)
Thinking a bit into the future, perhaps Twitter will offer to take my email folders and auto-magically create lists of users from the email accounts and phone numbers in them.
This all gets interesting in the context that Twitter lists are viewable to the outside world - and inbox settings are not. There still seems like more work to do to make this all make sense, but for now, it seems to be somewhere between Buzz and Facebook's approach to connecting users to their intimate relationships.
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We can see the motivation for Twitter to launch this feature. One of the challenges the service has is also its greatest feature: no rules. Anyone, anything can have an account today: devices, dogs, spacecraft, germs, conferences. All of 'em are out there somewhere and are one button away from being in your feed.
Something to think about in this mixed model of accounts, is that although the settings on Twitter are now moving towards discovering email and phone numbers for our contacts, we don't expect the Cassini Saturn spacecraft to have a mobile phone number.
Although Twitter is amazing for finding information about the world in real time, one of the things that Twitter has lacked is stickiness with intimate contacts.
Trying to get folks use Twitter to connect to their real friends, people they work with, and family members is a part of the battle for the real-time Web. Facebook has unique features and momentum in this area (e.g. requiring your real name), and Google Buzz made a big move in connecting the inbox for millions of Gmail users to its social service.
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This is a great example of where Twitter, being so decentralized, has to rely on partners to roll out these types of features. Traditional Web users see these features offered by the company, but others - Seesmic, Tweetdeck, Tweetie - may not ever offer this feature in their client.
One thing to watch will be how Twitter evolves the terms of service and default settings as it ramps up its efforts to compete further for mind share in the real-time web.
Taking this all into consideration, do you want to be found on Twitter?