Dell's Twitter Experiment in the Enterprise Fails

Dell uses Twitter as its messaging and collaboration tool during a Q&A with reporters to announce its new laptop line. The hard-to-follow tweets showed just how challenging it is to leverage Twitter as an enterprise application. Looks like IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Communications Server are safe for now.

Debate remains great about whether or not popular micro-blogging Web site Twitter, which lets us post 140-character updates on what we're doing or commentaries on things, is a viable enterprise tool.
There are instances burbling up that Twitter is used in business or enterprise communications and collaboration. Just today, as I'm writing this, Dell is using Twitter to let press and customers ask Dell executives questions about its new laptop line.
Check out the Twitter user group, called Digital Nomads, here. Clearly, the group is intensely popular over such a short period of time, with hundreds of tweets lighting up the page.
In the Dell case, Dell spokespeople did a decent job letting followers know what was happening over the course of the event. For example, Dell officials told us who was coming onstage, and when.
But it got muddy during the Q&A part. When users start asking questions, Twitter has the feel of a real-time chat tool, not much different from group chat. No problem, right? Wrong.
The problem is that while a user can post a question of the group and a Dell spokesperson can respond, following the real-time question-and-answer exchanges is a royal pain.
You have to find the response first, click on the questioner who the responder is replying to see the original questions. The character cap on tweets won't allow for fuller details. Yes, I realize that's how Twitter works, thank you, and that's exactly why it didn't work for some participants.
Indeed, Mel Webster tweeted: "Sorry, but not webcasting the Q&A session is lame if you were looking for participation."
Dell responded: "Yeah we hear you and twitter is still feeding to event and taking Qs here. new experiment and we missed on couple details. Sorry."
After reading two pages of these tweets, I'd choose group chat from IBM Lotus SameTime or Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, where we can see all the questions and answers in a reasonable order, over this. And Webster is right, why not webcast the event?
Dell claims in its new bulletin that it is among the first major companies to let reporters and customers ask questions on Twitter during a live news conference.
I won't quarrel with that, but it could be the last. I'm getting a headache from clicking around from question to answer, to question, to answer, from question to answer, from question to answer... Sorry for the redundancy, but now you get an idea of how monotonous finding articulate information on Digital Nomads is.
For this Dell exercise, Twitter is, at best, a mediocre communications tool. But it isn't the only business-oriented use of Twitter.
ReadWriteWeb is the best tracker I've seen about Twitter's application in the enterprise. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote about a great example here in this post about Twellow.
Twellow, he notes, is an "automatically generated directory of Twitter users, organized by occupation," to help users find people with common interests on Twitter. But until such services gain the kinds of traction Twitter itself has, Twitter, despite its 2.2 million-plus users, is still limited by its simplicity.
Right now Twitter is what it is: an extremely basic communications tool that lets users sound off, but it sure is fun. I've asked co-founder Biz Stone before if Twitter had designs on targeting the enterprise.
The answer was no, but that doesn't mean others can't leverage Twitter as a communications tool for business. Dell's effort was a step in that direction.
Scalability issues aside (you didn't think you'd read a Twitter article without one, did you?), Twitter needs to expand its functionality, such as adding persistent aggregate messaging streams, before it can be seriously considered even as a feature in an enterprise environment.