It's hard to explain what Twitter is to anyone who isn't using it, but maybe this example might help. We'll focus on one news story and see how it played out on Twitter. We'll also share a few tricks on how to use the site to find info on any topic.
On March 16, twelve minutes before the opening of the U.S. stock market, orders to purchase shares of Expedia (EXPE) shot up. Did someone try to manipulate Expedia's stock price?
Reuters noticed this spiking volume of purchases about an hour later, and the news agency reported that there was "talk that the company might be a takeover target for Google Inc.." The source of this rumor is unknown. CNBC reported the rumor, of course, and Expedia's stock price hovered at about 9 percent higher than it was before the rumor for the rest of the day. (The stock may have been boosted by an overall market spike later in the day, but for at least several hours, this rumor seemed to be the only explanation for the jump.)
After the rumor, people began to comment on Twitter, a free service for posting status-updates using your computer or a smartphone. Twitter gives you the real-time buzz, while Google gives you the wisdom of what's important on the Web by accumulating it over years of searching. Twitter is fed with comments from a self-selecting crowd of people who tend to seek out the latest and greatest. As a side-benefit, many of its users are avid travelers and share great tips.
International Business News used its Twitter feed to broadcast the Reuters report. It looked like this:
ibtnews: "Expedia shares gain on Google takeover talk http://tinyurl.com/dln3om"Anyone who had subscribed to the publication's free news feed (by clicking "follow" at twitter.com/ibtnews) could read this.
Even better, if you searched on all stories about Expedia on Twitter, using the site search.twitter.com, you would have found the story. (You don't have to use Twitter to use search.twitter.com.) To find all stories on travel, type the word travel into the search engine— or add the pound sign in front of the word travel (#travel) to find posts specifically designated for travel lovers.
By the way, Twitter only allows 140-character long messages, making links hard to post. John (like most Twitter users) created a free, custom-length web address for his story by going to the site bit.ly. Other web-shorteners include tinyurl.com and budurl.com.
Other Twitter users then weighed in. At a certain point, the story stopped being a rumor and started being presented as a serious possibility. Did you know that Google's Head of Travel, Rob Torres is an Expedia veteran and even still lives in the Seattle area? You could find that out from the posted links. Did you know that there was a precedent for a deal? Someone pointed out that last year, Microsoft bought travel website Farecast for $115 million.
Conversations broke out between fellow Twitter users:
The founder of a U.K. travel site startup, MelwoodBaz, shared his thoughts with dannysullivan, the editor of SearchEngineLand.com (a Web site focusing on the Googles of this world). He wrote: "@dannysullivan Expedia are a Microsoft house. Google….very much aren't. Wouldn't want to be their Ops Manager if they got bought out." What this comment refers to is that Expedia was incubated by Microsoft until it was spun out in 1999; it was bought by IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2003.
The journalist John Cook posted on Twitter a link to his blog post with his analysis of the story:
johnhcook: Some rumors and chatter today that Google may be looking to buy Expedia. Does that makes any sense? http://bit.ly/16HKIcHis article expressed skepticism about the merger, noting that, "Expedia's revenue margins typically hover around 13 percent, below what Google is accustomed to."
Other Twitter users disagreed, arguing that a merger was possible:
From his post in London, HotelBlogs wrote: "Who believes that Google would be interested to acquire Expedia Inc.? - Big no brainer: Travel, Search, Conversion=$$$"
Over in Paris, lsfseo wrote: "Don’t Think Google Will Buy Expedia? Think Again http://tinyurl.com/2j3dwq" (The linked-to article notes that Google "routinely advertises its own products side-by-side with those of paid advertisers…and its own products, such as YouTube."
BartLePoole pointed out that we've heard this song before: "Google + Expedia rumors once again - http://bit.ly/X1m5U (expand) compared to last year http://bit.ly/FziX4"
TheMotleyFool (the Twitter feed for the personal finance website) noted: "We know Google's ($GOOG) ambitious, but its rumored interest in Expedia ($EXPE) doesn't make sense: http://is.gd/nSps" A post on Twitter by industry analyst Tom Botts via HudsonCrossing agreed, noting (among other things) that Yahoo had a bad experience with purchasing travel shopping website Farechase and Google wouldn't want to repeat the mistake. I share this view. I don’t see how buying Expedia would make any sense for Google. It's more likely that one of the healthier online travel agencies will buy one of the sick ones.
As of midday today, the stock had given back half of that gain as investors began to doubt. We'll never know who the source of the rumor was, or if they profited from the sale of the stock after the market has pushed it up, unless the Securities and Exchange Commission decides to investigate. But given everything else the agency has on its plate right now, it probably doesn't have the time.
If joining Twitter sounds like too much effort, you can get a taste of what it's like by visiting this website, a feed of news about travel: Twendz.
For a sense of what's hot among Twitter users in general, not just in travel, visit Twitturly.com.
Feel free to recommend any great Twitter users who talk about travel by posting a comment below. We're always looking for great sources of information, humor, and insight. Here are 5 that Lonely Planet recommends as the best: