For years, the term “status update” evoked nothing so much as a dull report, drily delivered. But status updates have emerged as one of the hottest -- and friendliest -- features of social networking.
Spurred by the popularity of Twitter Inc. , the messaging service whose sole focus is letting people share 140-character status updates, sites from Goodreads to LinkedIn to MySpace and Hi5 have added little text boxes that let their users tell the world in a phrase or two what they’re doing, working on, thinking about, and reading.
Some think these short messages are shallow timewasters. But status updates have taken off because people find them to be a surprisingly meaningful way to connect with others, at home or at work.
While many technologies make people feel more distant from each other, the quality of “ambient intimacy” or “co-presence,” which is the sense that you’re aware of and sharing experiences with people in your network -- even when you’re nowhere near each other physically -- makes people feel closer. This kind of ambient intimacy is encouraged by micromessaging, which allows people to talk about little life details and fleeting thoughts, tidbits that don’t fit into any other medium, but that one might share when next to a friend, family member, or co-worker.
In short, micromessaging forges the kind of personal connectedness that’s long been a promise of technology, but has eluded widespread adoption on the Internet until recently.
Short status messages first appeared years ago in instant message systems like Yahoo Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger, which give users the option to post an “away message” telling others why they’re unavailable. People -- especially high school and college students -- used the space as an area for expression, letting friends know what they were up to all the time and checking in on each other.
But the form didn’t start spreading until 2006. That spring, Twitter launched, and right around the same time, Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) added its status updates feature, calling it “a lightweight way for people to give little updates to their friends.”
Twitter now has somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million registered users, while status updates have become a very popular feature of Facebook, meriting their own page on each profile. By 2008, more than 250 Twitter clones worldwide let people share their status updates, and professional sites like Plaxo added related features.
The brevity of status updates means they’re easy for people to create and consume, and that low-impact quality, combined with the importance of sharing information about what you’re working on or whom you’re meeting with, makes short status messages a great fit for the workplace. Several micromessaging applications that launched this fall, including Yammer and Present.ly, are tailored specifically for internal company communications.
People who use these systems say that one of the chief benefits is a much greater and very welcome ambient awareness about co-workers, particularly (but not exclusively) those who work in remote offices. At the same time, the flow of short messages helps reduce or possibly eliminate the unwelcome (and often unread) status updates of old -- that is, long emails and boring meetings.
— Sarah Milstein is a consultant on Web 2.0 and editorial strategies