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In the short time since the U.S. election, I've seen quite a number of articles about how Barack Obama's use of social media gave him an edge over the Internet-clueless McCain.

And it got me thinking about the impact these platforms have had in my own life, and can have society-wide.

I was an early adopter of many-to-many discussion platforms online; I experimented with them when I briefly went online with a Compuserve account in 1987 (though between the command-line interface that I had to relearn each time and the noisy 300 bps phone lines that kept throwing me off, I didn't stick around very long). I wrote about them back in 1991, and began using them actively in 1995. At that time, I mostly used e-mail discussion lists.

Thirteen months ago, I began migrating to social media platforms by signing up first for Facebook and then Plaxo, CollectiveX, Ning, and, this summer, Twitter. I'd made a stab at it earlier; I've had accounts on LinkedIn and Ryze for several years, and put up a MySpace page a couple of years ago. But I hadn’t really used them, and other than LinkedIn, I'm still not using those networks.

Facebook was the first one that (excuse the pun) clicked for me. The interface was intuitive, it was easy to find both old friends and people with common interests, and it conveniently notified me by e-mail when someone shared anything with me. Plaxo and CollectiveX are similar. I was drawn to CollectiveX in particular, because it seems to be where a lot of discussions about environmentally sustainable and social-venture triple-bottom-line business take place, and it has a wonderfully international scope that I find refreshing.

And then in August when I finally signed on to Twitter! It's hard to believe that such a simple idea can be so powerful. Or how much can be said in 140-character installments.

I'm shocked, amazed, and delighted by how much I like it, and what treasures I find there:

  • Tons of resources: useful articles and blogs, audios, upcoming teleseminars
  • Access to movers and shakers (I've exchanged messages with luminaries like Guy Kawasaki and Mark Joyner; I've sent messages to Obama's Twitter account, but am not convinced that anyone actually reads it. He has over 120,000 followers and follows nearly all of them back.)
  • Powerful ways to grow my own community and get connected with people I ought to know about
  • Media leads of reporters looking for sources, by following skydiver and Profnet
  • Ability to flag useful articles, including some that I write, or events I put on
  • And yes, some friendships

All this with only a few hundred that I'm following. I have cut drastically down on the number of e-mail discussions I participate in, so that I have time for a few visits a day to Twitter. I don't quite understand how so many people manage to follow thousands of people, but I see that coming.

Twitter is at the Model T stage. I don’t think anyone could predict the full impact in, say, ten years, any more than in 1995, people would have predicted that by 2008, a lot of people would be not just shopping but paying bills, managing databases, running surveys, doing full-scale audio and video, and actually cataloging the world's knowledge over the Web.

I may not know where we're going, but I'm sure excited to be on the journey.

Want to follow me on Twitter?