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Use of Twitter in an Information Retrieval System

Firstly, A Happy New Year to all my readers! I have been a bit slow with blogging lately because of the tremendous pressure with work & my postgraduate research. But anyway, since Xmas & New Year is over I’m back in my serious business – Blogging!

twitter for on demand information query I’m sure most of you are already using twitter as a communication medium to communicate with your friends, family, your colleagues, your online pals and it doesn’t stop there. You are also using twitter to keep track of your industry, the key people involved in the industry and companies that are important to you etc.

Nowadays every company seems to have a twitter profile with a real operator (human being) behind the scene who is communicating with customers, taking complaints, resolving existing issues and doing everything to save their online reputation. Companies are monitoring the twitter cloud for occurrences of certain keywords – company name, product name etc. and before you know it, you get a tweet from them – showing you that they exist & they care!

How thoughtful! Isn’t it? Well, that’s just the ‘social’ side of it. When a customer is talking about your company, you should be there! But is being there just enough? Let’s take a look at some of the corporate twitter accounts like dell, comcast, jetblue etc. (Courtesy of Search Engine Journal).

Below are some of the similarities I have found. If you run a business and you have a business twitter profile, than I’m sure you fall under one or more of the points below:

  • You simply broadcast whatever new happens with your company. It’s like a TV advertisement– You tweet, tweet and hope that your customer sees it.
  • You try to be interactive with your prospective customers. Whenever people talks about something that you
    sell or do – you jump right into the conversation and try to pitch your product/service.
  • You use Twitter as one of the dedicated Customer Support channel for your business. So when your customer is having a bad experience and they have shared it via twitter, you try to comfort the customer and help to resolve the issue.
  • You use twitter as a Reputation Monitoring tool. When someone talks about a bad experience with your company/product or service. You try to jump right in, showing that you care and show him a light of hope.
  • You just heard of twitter and you have opened up a profile with your company name to save it from those stupid name squatters. You are yet to think of a proper strategy to run your twitter account.
  • You are using twitter as you normally would, but you are just using your Business name and logo in the profile.

Now whichever point you business falls under, it’s really not my focus today. I’m not here to argue on which ‘strategy’ works and which doesn’t. In fact I’m not even going to touch on the ‘social’ factor that twitter possesses. Twitter is an excellent social tool on the web and this is just a fact so there is no point in talking about it over and over again, because it has already shown its significance in that area.

Can Twitter be a Medium of an Information Retrieval System?

Twitter is yet to be tested as a strong medium of an Information Retrieval System. SMS (Short Message Service) has been very popular & successful in delivering On-Demand information to customers. So for instance, if you want the latest headlines of the news, want to track your order, or want to know the exchange rate of a currency – What you usually do is simply send an SMS to a specific number (provided by the mobile operator) and you get the details instantaneously on your mobile inbox. The service is not necessarily offered by the mobile operator, in most cases it’s created & maintained by the 3rd party providers. They simply lease a pretty number (e.g. 1111, 2000, 3232 etc.) from the operator and share the profit with them as per their agreement.

Now SMS is becoming history, people are sending less ‘text’ messages and relaying more on twitter. So I am very surprised why no one is looking at the possibility that twitter can actually replace SMS in terms of On-Demand Information Retrieval & Marketing.

Here are some scenarios:

Amazon & Dell can start allowing users to track their orders via Twitter – It can be fairly simple. Customers will simply follow a specific twitter account for tracking purpose (i.e. @AmazonTrack, @DellTrack) and they can send a DM to the account with a keyword followed by their tracking number/order number etc. So something like:

DM @DellTrack Track 1033910

Then within seconds DellTrack will query a database containing the order number and DM back the customer with the details:

Order Status: 1033910 – Dispatched 19:09 – 02/01/09 (Details: http://dell.com/tracking/twitter/?o=1033910/)

Some third party service is already doing this for Postal Mail/Parcel Tracking for Fedex, UPS, USPS, and DHL etc. But why aren’t those companies doing these themselves?

Airlines can give away Flight information via Twitter – I found a few airlines on twitter – (e.g. SouthEast, American Airlines, Delta etc.) But most of them are just sticking to the social aspect of twitter. But from a customer point of view I think it would be really useful if a person could just send a tweet and know what time his flight is or from which gate its boarding etc.

So all you need is to follow their twitter account and send a “DM” which will automatically make the ‘bot’ to query the Database and send you a direct message with the details requested.

Service Industry can use Twitter for Customer Support – Whether you are a mobile operator, an ISP or a Web Hosting company, you can provide your customer with an extra channel of support via twitter.

For example, customer can be allowed to assign one twitter account with the service that they are subscribed to with your company. Let’s assume for now that it’s a hosting industry. And for those quick support queries (e.g. My Site is down, How Can I do XyZ), a customer can simply send a DM to the Support’s Twitter account (Without having to make that call or write an email). The system will automatically generate a ticket for that support request and let the user know the ticket number via DM.

Since this will be integrated with the host’s support system, so all those ‘tweets’ will actually be received by the support team via Email. They will simply respond to the email and its cut-down version will be automatically DMed to the user with a link to the full response.

Schools / Colleges can give away their Results via Twitter – A student can DM @StanfordResults with their ID & DOB and get the result of the current term.

Love Sports? Get the latest updates via Twitter – A sports freak can get the latest score of his favorite sport by simply sending a tweet.

Make a Doctor’s Appointment with Twitter – No need to make that call, just tweet and you automatically know whether your doctor is available on your chosen time-slot and then you can register yourself for an appointment – everything just using your twitter account.

Pay for your coffee via Twitter – It would be cool if you could send a DM “Pay @Starbucks48 $9.99” to @PaypalTwitter and automatically @Starbucks48’s TwitterPaypal account will be credited with that amount. This can also work for ordering pizza!

Random Ideas of some Twitter Based Information Retrieval Apps

World Time – You send a tweet to @worldtime – “time London” and the world time bot automatically returns a message to you with the current date/time in London.

Exchange Rate / Conversion – Similar to the one above – “193 USD =? AUD”.

Stock Updates – There are many people who needs to keep a sharp eye on the stock market. So if this app is developed users can just write @StockUpdate GOOG and get the latest Google stock price via twitter. They can sign-up for a auto-notification service where every hour or every day, the system can send a DM to you with the latest stock price of your preferred businesses.

Tweet Poll – I love polls and I have seen a lot of people who take polls via twitter. But I can’t imagine the trouble the host needs to go through by manually counting the ‘votes’. Why not have real tweet polls that can be automated? So you sign up with this service and create a poll, your poll question can be a True-false type (e.g. “yes/no”) type of a MCQ type (e.g. “1,2,3,4”). Users will be asked to simply tweet the poll id and the answer to the service provider, say – @Polldady. (e.g. @polldaddy QS93384 3).

The possibilities are endless. Anything that exists for Mobile devices (via SMS) can actually be upgraded and made for twitter. Since more users are going for mobile internet, and getting wifi access almost anywhere – sooner or later SMS will become a history and Twitter will be the next alternative for SMS.

What Needs to be done from here onwards?

Someone needs to build a platform that will be able to ‘host’ some of these things mentioned above in a simple manner. Since Evan Williams (CEO, Twitter) is yet to find a proper business model, I believe this is something that they should look into. Rather than charging people money for their service, they should build a platform that businesses can subscribe to facilitate these services. Because it will be impossible to do something in a large scale with their current API limit. They are in the best position to host these services on the cloud. They can even formally open up a team, to develop the ‘systems’ and integrate it with the company’s existing system so that a smooth operation can take place.

For small businesses (those who doesn’t require much customization), Twitter can have sort of an ‘Easy Wizard’ that can allow the businesses to make a basic application on the fly and pay for it as they go.

Have any ideas? Share them in comments!

Follow me (@saadkamal) on Twitter!


  • Reply zeeshan |

    hey this is a nice post, i got to know a lot of things about twitter that i wasn’t aware of before…and a nice analysis…

  • Reply DazzlinDonna |

    Those are excellent ideas, and that’s the best monetization idea for Twitter that I’ve come across so far. Hopefully, someone at Twitter reads this post.

  • Reply Saad |

    @DazzlinDonna – Thanks for dropping by. Appreciate it :)

    Well if they are still ‘looking’ for a revenue model I’m pretty sure they will notice anything & everything that goes around the subject.

  • Reply xavierv |

    It obviously is a good idea. I don’t think like dazzlindonna that twitter should monetize this. they should let third party developers build a business the way they’ve been doing it since the start.

    Also, this might not be possible with the security issues we have seen on twitter this week end. unless I can pay myself a coffee on behalf of the president.

  • Reply Gary Lee |

    wow . that was a really in depth look at the potential of twitter . . . you’ve inspired me to write something about twitter as well . . . not in the sense of communication, but instead as something else . . . hopefully you’ll hear about it once i’m finished

  • Reply Anton Stoyanov |

    Hi, Thanks for the post.

    I’m thinking of making a little project on connecting SugarCRM with twitter to at least do a campaign to people’s Twitters as well as email, then maybe make it interactive.

    Would there be a market for integrating CRMs and Twitter?


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