T-shirts and food trucks: Has Twitter found relevance?

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As the old saying goes, if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. But what if your tool isn't quite so functional? What if your mousetrap doesn't really have a purpose, your company doesn't have a business plan, and your audience doesn't really know what to do with you?

Well, if you're Twitter, that might not make a difference.

In a recent issue of Time magazine, Ashton Kutcher writes that the social networking medium is "as significant and paradigm-shifting as the invention of Morse code, the telephone, radio, television, or the personal computer."

While that might be a little excessive, there is no doubt that the handy little site has done wonders for Kutcher, who has gone from being "that Punk'd guy who married Bruce Willis' ex" to "that Punk'd guy who talks to his wife in front of a million people on Twitter." One can only assume that this is a step up.
Kutcher isn't alone in his Twitter addiction. For millions of users, the site has become a key social connection tool. Its 140-character limit forces users to explore the limits of brevity; in the process, it reveals a sort of choppy-yet-lyrical art.

Unfortunately, however, for all its hypnotic appeal, the site still seems to lack the kind of purpose that would ensure its future funding and lasting relevance. Unless it finds a way to fill a lasting need, Twitter could all too easily be relegated to the rubbish-bin of pop history -- another useless fad, here for a season and then gone without a trace.

A little more than a month ago, some restaurants began using Twitter as a means for connecting with patrons. By sending personalized tweets, the eateries were able to quickly build ad-hoc fan sites, through which they could notify their regulars about various events. Following this lead, gourmet food trucks -- another emerging trend -- began using the site to tell fans where they will be parked, what foods they are serving, and how to reach them.

This use of Twitter beautifully capitalizes on the application's unique qualities. Since Twitter is free, it makes a great notification service for companies with minimal advertising budgets. For that matter, the fact that patrons must sign up for tweets means that the food trucks don't have to waste money (and good will) on irritating direct-mail marketing.

Also, given that Twitter users can send and receive tweets from their phones, the site frees both the food trucks and their customers from having to rely on computers. Connections can be instant and unlimited.

In another twist, some sites have recently begun to exploit the lyricism of Twitter. Twistori, for example, is designed to allow users to dip their fingers in the raw lyricism of the site. Like Twitter, it is free. Twitshirt, on the other hand, charges $20 a pop to print your favorite tweet on a T-shirt.

Basically, this is a lot like CafePress, except that it costs more, and is more limited in the options that it offers users. On the bright side, however, if someone else chooses to buy a copy of your "Heading out to Mickey D's for lunch. McNUGGETS ÜBER ALLES!" T-shirt, you get a small royalty payment.

While the $1 per shirt payment isn't all that profitable, it seems like Twitshirt might be on the way to figuring out a profitable marketing strategy. The key, apparently, lies in transforming Twitter into a pyramid scheme!

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