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Forty-two Twitter Use Cases and the ultimate answer to the question: "Why do we tweet?"

Category : Social

This is my final post to this blog because all good things must come to an end. Coincidentally, this is also my 42nd post to this blog. Forty-two, a significant number in its own right. It is a number that stirred some Deep Thoughts inside my mind. Thoughts about the ultimate answer to the question "why do we tweet?". So, for a few months or so, I have observed how people use Twitter and what their motivations for tweeting could be. Of course, I have also put google to work and also picked some use cases from here, here and here. The result of all this is a list of 42 Twitter use cases. which are listed in the table below. But, before you jump to my list, I should explain that I have rather simplified the notion of "Use Case" for my purpose. You will see no pre- and postconditions for example, let alone actors. You could argue that the "intended result(s)" are the postconditions, so feel free. This post isn't about the nits and grits of writing use cases (you should jump to Alistair Cockburn's website for that in stead).



intended result(s)


assess a new follower: check bio, check activity, read some of that user's latest updates, check who else is following this user

knowing whether this user is worth following back


reply to another twitter user's update

have that user follow you (back), strengthen your connection with that user, increase the level of interaction you get on twitter


acknowledge another twitter user's update (retweet)

strengthen your current connections, gain some more followers


comment on another user's blog post (modern blogging systems allow you to tweet comments you leave behind)

strengthen your current connections, gain some more followers


share a link to your latest blog post 

have people visit your blog


share a link to an interesting article you came accross

strengthen your current connections, gain some more followers


tag an update (using a hashtag)

reach people outside your current group of followers, gain some more followers


share conference impressions (live conference feedback tweets, usually tagged with the hashtag for that conference)

have people know you are at the conference, gain more followers


submit live comment while watching a talk (or webinar)

let other people who couldn't attend about the talk know what they are missing (or not)


share pointless babble such as "going to walk the dog" or "good night"

An sense of enormous well being (citation from "Park Life" by Blur). Supposedly, people love to read snack-sized content so you will entertain lots of people.


share your impressions and experiences with a gadget you recently purchased

other people buying the same gadget, get interaction with people who also bought that gadget, gain more followers


report news you are witnessing (e.g. tweet about a plane you see crashing with a link to a picture or video  you shot on the spot)

feel like a news reporter, get people to retweet the news, gain more followers


take polls (e.g. what mobile twitter client do you use most often?)

whatever results/answers/stats you are aiming for


store a thought so you won't forget it

an online memory of your thoughts for later recovery and use, provoke thoughts in other people's heads, start interaction


post your resume (using

get job offers


get live feedback throughout a conference (often now, live conference feedback tweets are projected on a wall encouraging more people to tweet their impressions)

see early feedback allowing you to change/adjust things while the conference is taking place, potentially have lots of people promote the conference  through their follower network


report a problem you are having with an application you are using

get support, either directly from the vendor, or from other users


wish for a feature in your favorite twitter client

get a response telling you the feature you are wishing for is a splendid idea and that it will be implemented in the next release, or that the feature is already implemented but you simply didn't look for it (duh)


publish news updates around your open source project

have people know the existence of your project, have people download/try the latest binaries, get feedback for the latest release


ask people to join your open source project

more project participants, ultimately improved project activity and productivity


inform your followers about a talk you are going to do on a certain conference/symposium 

get a larger audience, gain more followers


post job/career oportunities at your company

job candidates


share details of your presidential election campaign

increased popularity, votes, become president of the US


find free beer (simply by searching twitter for those two words)

get drunk at someone else's expense


share your current whereabouts through services like brightkite (this a very popular use of Twitter and led to this popular online game:

get into contact with people that are  in your vicinity, become the mayor (FourSquare) of a location


track someone's whereabouts and status

knowing where someone is and if he/she is okay


Submit status ("come on rockets!!!!") of the Mars lander of the Mars Phoenix project (NASA, May 2008)

share a very cool thing with the world in a very cool way


thank a new follower for following you using a direct message

interaction, based on a response decide whether to follow back


semi-urgently reach someone (twitter users often respond quicker to direct messages than to e-mails: "d mnankman check your e-mail, I sent you something important")

almost guaranteed and quick delivery of semi-urgent messages or requests


find out what people are saying right now about something you are thinking to purchase

reassurance about the purchase, or advice against the purchase, advice on alternative products


find out what other people's experience are with a certain new technology you are thinking to adopt

reassurance about using the technology, hints on the use of and problems with the technology, or advice against using it, suggestions for alternative technologies


find names for your unborn child

suggestions for names, interaction with other (to be) parents


search for a topic of your interest (such as the safety of flying with a certain airline company)

real-time news about that topic, reassurance (or not) of your plans, 


solve Ajax programming problems

tips and suggestions on how to solve the problem


submit the next step in the washing program (your washing machine being the actor that initiates this use case)

set an interesting example on how Twitter could be used. Many innovations  begin at a crazy starting point.


submit the state - open or closed - of a bridge (@towerbridge)

set an interesting example on how Twitter could be used. Many innovations  begin at a crazy starting point.


sell your twittername (via

a comfortable sum of money


Recommend nice people to follow (using the #NPF hashtag)

gain more followers


Promote obscure sites that promise you loads of followers within weeks

get people to visit a site that is stuffed with ads, ergo: earn money through people's gullability


Promote supposedly easy ways to become rich

get people to visit a site that is stuffed with ads, ergo: earn money through people's gullability


Contribute to an opera (Twitterdammerung)

Being part of a crazy but amazing project, hearing lines you contributed actually sung at the performance of the opera


Fight a mobster (

Virtual respect, gain more members in your own mob, joy

My personal favorites are number 27 and 41. The latter especially for its collaborative nature. I also found that for roughly a quarter of the above use cases, gaining more followers is one of the intended results. Based on that I can only conclude that the ultimate answer to the question "why do we tweet?", is "mostly out of vanity, but we like the interaction too". Myself, I tweet because I hope to get interaction with interesting people and use Twitter as a tool to know what is going on right now in my fields of interest and my network (and don't dare to pollute it!). ---
Mark Nankman is no longer a UX Architect and Web 2.0 thought leader at Capgemini, but his public brain waves can still be followed on Twitter:

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M. Nankman
M. Nankman

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