Twitter just announced a fascinating new way for mobile users (even those without a Twitter account) to quickly and easily start following the short message bursts of the Twitterverse. With the new "Fast Follow" feature (say that three times fast), anyone can text "Follow @rww" (or any other username) to Twitter at 40404 and they will instantly start receiving SMS alerts for that user's tweets.Everyone's favorite micro-blogging service
What is more impressive, however, it that those without an account of their own can still receive alerts and can even sign up right from their phone via SMS. While this is a simple feature add for Twitter, it is a brilliant move that will get more people trying the service.
The use of short code text messaging is very popular these days. Millions of people vote for the next American Idol star via text message, and just as many have donated money to the Red Cross during times of need right from their phones. Part of the reason for this popularity is the ease by which it is done, as well as the ubiquitous nature of text messaging.
Even the most basic mobile devices can send text messages, and texting is huge among younger generations who use it as a 24/7 lifeline to their friends. Cell phone use is especially high among less affluent demographics of society who may not be able to afford a broadband internet connection, but can certainly swing a cheap basic cell phone.
Now with Fast Follow, anyone can start following tweets as easy as they vote on American Idol or donate to the Red Cross. Now business, organizations and even people can say, "Follow me on Twitter by texting 'Follow @chcameron' to 40404," and people will know what that means and how to do it. There is much more familiarity with SMS short codes than there is with signing up for Twitter and following people that way.
What's more - letting non-users receive alerts is a great way to let people dip their toes in before jumping head first into the vast ocean that is Twitter. It is curious, however, to consider how being able to follow a user without an account will affect a user's follow count. Will a new category emerge that will tell us how many non-users are following?
Either way, it would not be surprising to see this decision pay off very well for Twitter in terms of adding users to the service - perhaps even from new demographics.