The Revolution Will Be Twittered

"This James Buck situation certainly isn't something we designed for, but we did try to keep the service so simple. Really, you can imagine it being used in any situation," Stone said.

Although Stone declined to give exact numbers of Twitter users, the service is used internationally and just expanded into Japan.

Start of a Revolution?

Long-time Twitter user and technology forecaster Paul Saffo says that technology has long been a medium for broadcasting messages of a revolution.

"This has a long and honorable history. The important thing to keep in mind is we use the word revolution so often that we forget that these technologies, at the right political moment, are truly revolutionary," Saffo said. "Yeah, that's what Twitter's for."

Like e-mail and text messaging before it, Twitter has ushered in a "just-in-time" effect, according to Saffo, bringing electronic communication into real time. He even believes it could have an effect this November. Politicians that see themselves behind in the polls could send a Twitter message for supporters to come out and vote.

"On the next election day, Twitter may end up being an important vehicle," Saffo said. "It's a sleeping giant."

Big Companies Join In

Underground bloggers and arrested students aren't the only people using Twitter for reasons other than social ones. Large corporations are getting in on the action, too.

Earlier this month, Michael Arrington, co-editor of the tech blog TechCrunch, began experiencing trouble with his broadband connection. When several calls to Internet service provider Comcast didn't provide any respite, he posted complaints on Twitter. Within 20 minutes, an executive from Comcast called him, asking what he could do to help.

That executive was Frank Eliason, a manager in Comcast customer service. Eliason has spent the past six months running a Comcast initiative to respond to customers questions and complaints online. The team checks blogs and Twitter as a part of that effort.

While Arrington may have been the most high-profile Comcast customer to get personal attention, he wasn't the first and won't be the last.

In the past three weeks, Eliason estimates that he's made 1,500 posts to Twitter. When he reads of a complaint, he tries to locate the customer's account. Depending on the problem, he'll respond to the customer via Twitter or personally by phone.

"Most are shocked and actually thrilled," Eliason said of customer response to his personal calls. "They're happy that we're there."

Internet Legend

James Buck's story of using Twitter as get-of-jail-free card is already becoming the stuff of Internet legend. Snarky electronic e-card manufacturer has created an electronic greeting card that says "I hope someday a one-word microblog keeps you out of a Middle Eastern prison."

But for Buck, the story is far from a punchline. In fact, it's still going. When he graduates in a few weeks, Buck plans to return to Egypt to find his translator. While Egyptian authorities say that they released Mohammed, his friends and family can't find him anywhere.

"Twitter got me to the story in Mahalla, then helped me get out, and now I'm using it to try to help Mohammed," Buck wrote in an e-mail.

Buck now has 300 followers on his Twitter feed.

"Technology got us into this, and I'm trying to use it to get us out, too," he wrote. "Information makes the world smaller."

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