A new services type emerged over the last two, three years in the internet: microblogging. With his most popular representative Twitter Microblogging became very well known and widely used. But what is Microblogging? How does it work? What services are out there and how do they differ? And most importantly: As a an owner of a [BUSINESS_TYPE_HERE] business: Should I care about Microblogging?
I say yes, if you want to use a service which helps you to provide your community with information and which doesn't take up a lot of time updating it. But...
What it is
Wikipedia defines Microblogging as "a passive broadcast medium in the form of blogging. A microblog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically much smaller, in both actual size and aggregate file size. A microblog entry could consist of nothing but a short sentence fragment, an image or embedded video."
I usually don't like to start with quotes from dictionaries but this one is pretty good. Microblogging is - as the name already states it - a small form of Blogging. To be totally exact it is not different from Blogging but a sub-form of Blogging; a Blog of small Blog entries. But as always the definition of a term changes over time and as a result today Microblogging involves a bit more; the amount of self-hosted Microblogs is practically zero as Microblogs are often hosted on special platforms. This allows them to be tightly interwoven and create some kind of "social network".
How they are hosted differs from service to service. While some allow you to upload media data (like video or audio files) to embed them into your page others use external services or email for content publishing. One thing these networks differ from classic Blog hosters like Wordpress or Blogger.com is that they made publishing even easier again. Most of them allow just some simple way of text formatting and media inclusion, others don't allow any formatting at all and include data using links (like Twitter). You don't have to write often, it doesn't take long and you don't have to write much (sometimes they even limit you in how much you can write).
These services became specially popular with the raise of smartphones everywhere. These devices made it easier to stay connected to the internet and share content. But you don't want to write a 2-hour-articles on them. So smaller, simpler services with less overhead became a lot more attractive. And they started offering an easy way to stay-up-to-date with the social-network on these services as well.
There are many services allowing you to do Microblogging. We picked the three most popular services:
The classic under the Microblogging services is Tumblr. Already looking at it it reminds you of classic Blogs - just with smaller content. The service is totally webbased, allowing you to upload pictures, videos or write text. One of its specialities is that you can create a "network of Tumblrs" you like, stay up to date with them and easily share every other Tumblr article with just one click on your tumbl blog with your network. This made this service particularly attractive for compilations like the Audrey Hepburn Complex, ampersandandampersand or about Britney Spears. Because of the flexibility in designing the blogs of Tumblr are also used by celebrities like Katy Perry to stay connected to their audience.
The most popular Microblogging services is Twitter. Though looking into the feature list you could ask: Why is this the most popular service? There is no text formatting, no file-upload, limited page designing and you are even limited to 140 characters per message. Twitter became this popular because of its social structure. Besides the page of all your latest messages you have a page with all messages people you "follow" are shown and the later is the starting page. Specially attractive became this with the open API and the raise of thousands of clients allowing everyone even with old-school-smartphones of the Symbian age to easily check on what is going on in your friends network. The networking aspect obviously is the most important feature of Twitter. And every feature you are missing gets implemented as an external service multiple times like the picture services TweetPhoto and Twitpic.
A bit "special" is what posterous is doing: You don't have to create an account and write blog posts on their website, you just write email. You send it to the posterous service and they publish it. As email is one of the most used and best known service in the internet its makes this service incredibly easy to use for everyone. And also a lot of mobiles phones of the pre-smartphone era are able to sent emails already. Making it easy to share your thoughts and pictures on the way. One really neat feature is the one of private-blogs-for-groups. Allowing everyone to create a small blog accessible only for known people like for a travellers group or club.
Should I care?
As almost each other Web2.0-Service Microblogging needs time. Constantly. And therefore you should only do it because you like it. So if some marketeer comes up and says "oh yeah, and then we do some microblog about it and involve the community", you simply ask: "Alright and who is going to create the content? And keep it up to date?". If you already have a blog and always hate yourself for not writing enough because it needs to much time. Or you are thinking about blogging for some time already but are scared about having to write a lot and big articles regularly, these services are worth the look.
They've been built to scratch exactly this itch. This can be done private or as a company. For example to document what projects you are working on. A picture with the mobile phone, sent via email once or twice a week might just be enough to engage your customers and have a closer relationship to you.