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I’m a big advocate of Twitter as a real-time information source. If I have a question or need an opinion, I can message my Twitter list and then tally the responses. "If I post it, they will read (and, hopefully, respond)."

But the flaw in this design is that, like any real-time conversation, it’s only as valuable as the people who are actively using Twitter at that time.

Sure, there are solutions that help you keep track of conversations when you’re not actively connected, but by and large, any feedback you can expect from your Twitterbase is going to happen NOW.

So what happens if the people best-equipped to answer your question aren’t connected at that moment?

AND, what happens when your own Twitterbase is only a fraction of the size of someone else’s? Are your results still adequate?

To (t)Wit:

This morning, Chris Brogan asked the following question on Twitter:

Does anyone – ANYONE – like that Snap preview thingy? Do you ever go.. "oh hey! now THAT looks like a good site!" I *LOATHE* that thing.

Our mutual contact, Doug Haslam, responded:

I have Snap! active on my site– some people hate it, but not convinced I should turn it off– a Twitter tidal wave might do it

Chris (and, by extension, Doug) received several responses, mostly to the negative. In fact, Chris reported back:

10 folks @’d me back that they hate Snap. @DougH – is that a tidal wave? : )

But when Chris’s contact Vaspers chimed in, the results were much different:

If 685 of my blog readers took the time to vote Yes on "Do you like Snap?" while only 20 voted No, I have to keep Snap Preview Panels on.

So… Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How do we tell?

What Does This MEAN, Exactly?

Well, it means five things:

1. "Twitter-as-advisor" is only as useful as your ACTIVELY CONNECTED social network.

2. Relying on Twitter as the sole arbiter of public opinion is a shortsighted exercise, as most of us have social networks that are both (representatively) tiny and skewed.

3. HOWEVER, that doesn’t in any way invalidate the responses. In the above example, Chris’s readers may DESPISE Snap, which makes their chorus of dissent every bit as relevant as Vaspers’s pro-Snap responses. As with any social experiment, YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

4. Want to make better use of Twitter? Cultivate a wider social network, AND use Twitter IN TANDEM with other sources of information, not as a one stop solution.

5. Lastly, if Twitter wants long-term traction, it (and its DIY programming fans) need to find ways to extend the conversation of the NOW beyond the terrestrial restrictions of being plugged in AT THAT MOMENT.

Speaking of which, a question I asked on Twitter moments ago: Bloglines or Google Reader — which is better? (I’ve never used either.)