THE BLOG
07/24/2013 08:09 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

Inside the Twitterverse

AP

Win the Moment. That's the theme of the two-day conference that Twitter is holding for its employees in San Francisco, where I just spoke. In many ways, it's a surprisingly modest topic, since whether Twitter has won the moment is not very much in doubt. It's like Apple having an event called Win the Tablet Market. Twitter is definitely the market leader in winning the moment. But the value of Twitter, especially for a news organization, goes well beyond the instantaneousness commonly associated with Twitter.

I was once on a panel with Twitter's president of global revenue, Adam Bain, and he said that the three best ways to monetize Twitter are humor, humanity and huge deals. Humor and humanity perfectly describe what's best about Twitter, and what we like best about it at HuffPost, where Twitter is deeply integrated into virtually everything we do.

HuffPost is, yes, both an outlet for journalism and a platform for blogging. But fundamentally, The Huffington Post is about conversation and engagement. And Twitter plays an important role in all the ways in which we carry these out, and is essential in helping us define and amplify our core passions.

For breaking news, Twitter's value is obvious, functioning as an instant live-blog for the entire world. When a story breaks, our reporters and social editors are glued to Twitter. Even more than television, and even more than when television is providing a live shot of some unfolding event, Twitter is the place to be because of its ability to both bring in and then instantly disseminate relevant information. For all reporters these days, Twitter has become as important as having the police scanner on all the time was for crime reporters. It's a real-time window into what's happening all over the world, all the time.

And for live events, watching along with Twitter is like watching along with a few million of your wittiest friends -- and some you wish would shut up. Whether it's the Oscars, the Super Bowl or political debates, there are times when the commentary on Twitter is actually more fun than the event on which it's based.

At The Huffington Post, when we post a story, that's just the beginning, not the end, of the conversation. The news experience has moved from presentation to participation, and so we try to make everything we do a vehicle for engagement. And Twitter is an important tool for bringing conversation into every post and in keeping that discussion going as the story continues to unfold.

This is why Twitter is deeply integrated into our content management system. Having created a proprietary social dashboard, we've built social sharing into the very architecture of the editorial process itself. And then we give every editor training on how to use it. As we say at HuffPost, every editor is a social media editor.

And it's not just about using Twitter to take information in -- Twitter is also indispensable in helping us distribute our reporting and blogging. Our main Twitter feed, @HuffingtonPost, tweets every five minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (God took a day of rest, but Twitter doesn't); each of our vertical channels -- now over 50 -- has its own feed and tweets at least once an hour; and then there's the pivotal role Twitter plays in the reporting and blogging on our seven international editions. As of this writing, our main feed has sent out over 245,000 tweets.

Another thing we share is an attempt to redefine workplace culture. Weekly yoga classes at Twitter and at HuffPost; weekly tea time at Twitter; weekly breathing time at HuffPost; weekly meditation classes at HuffPost; weekly Pilates classes at Twitter.

But our most important use of Twitter is how we utilize it to amplify our core values and what's most important to us. For instance, we've recently started a campaign we call "The Third Metric," which is about redefining success as something beyond money and power to include well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and give back. I love tweeting my favorite quotes on this subject, and they happen to be among my most retweeted tweets, too.

Here is one of my favorite and most retweeted quotes: "So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You'd better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can't rearrange the universe," by Isaac Asimov.

And I love the way you can break the 140-character rule by posting a photo with a quote on it, like I did with this one: "For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin -- real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life," by Father Alfred D'Souza.

That process of tweeting around our Third Metric campaign has in turn deepened and refined our own thinking about it. With Twitter, we've been able to not only get our message out, but also have a real dialogue with thousands of other people who share this need to recalibrate their lives. That's because, like real communication in real relationships, Twitter isn't just about talking; it's also about listening. And that's central to HuffPost's DNA, too.

On the giving back part of our Third Metric campaign, this year our JobRaising Challenge brought together a group of nonprofits that -- using thousands of tweets -- competed and raised over $1.2 million that went to helping Americans get back to work. Then we again needed Twitter for our RaiseForWomen Challenge, encouraging women-focused charities; and with a larger group of competing nonprofits and over 10,000 tweets, we raised another $1.1 million.

Of course, Twitter is defined by its 140-character limit. Some critics have pointed to this restriction as if it somehow proves Twitter is shallow -- based, I guess, on the odd idea that usefulness and value are in direct proportion to length, that quality equals quantity. But, in fact, far from limiting value and utility, the format has expanded them in ways that I doubt even the creators had guessed.

After all, Twitter is not the first written form defined by formal rules. There's the haiku, for instance, with rigid constraints that have created three centuries of beautiful verse ("An old silent pond... / A frog jumps into the pond / splash! Silence again"); or the limerick ("There once was a man from Nantucket..."). So, too, with the sonnet, a form of lyric poetry that contains 14 lines ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"). Shakespeare didn't seem too constrained by the sonnet, of which he wrote 154 (wouldn't he have been great on Twitter?).

The 140-character limit does have its challenges, though. Even though it forces you to think through what you're going to say, like many people, I've learned that 140 characters still leave enough room for misunderstanding. Just last week, I was watching President Obama's speech on the Trayvon Martin verdict. I was particularly struck by the president's statement that he could very well have been Trayvon Martin. Having written a lot about the need to end the drug war, and knowing that the president himself has admitted to past drug use and yet still directs the federal government to lock people up for it, I tweeted that, given his past, the president -- like most of the country -- could also have been one of those behind bars for drugs. Most people got the point of the tweet, but some didn't, so I quickly sent out another tweet to clarify the first tweet. Since the term "retweet" is already taken, maybe the term "ClariTweet" could fit. ("Sorry for the confusion, let me ClariTweet:...")

Humans are built for communication, and anything that helps fill that insatiable need is going to take off. We're also built for narrative, and, even at 140 characters, Twitter can tap into that, too. Adam Bain once said that "Twitter is a series of 'now moments' across the world." But add up an accumulating series of now moments, and what you have is, well, history. Twitter is such an important part of the story of who we are that the Library of Congress is archiving tweets and has amassed 170 billion of them so far. There's already been one Twitter Fiction Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival recently announced it would include Vine as a competition category.

And that pool of those joining the conversation is growing larger and larger. In December of last year, Pope Benedict started tweeting. His first tweet was a selfie of him doing the Harlem Shake. Kidding, of course. A month before that, President Obama announced his reelection victory on Twitter.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once said, "Twitter is not a triumph of tech; it's a triumph of humanity." That's true. And like anything that's so closely intertwined with humanity, it can be funny, angry, happy, messy, selfish, and selfless. It can help topple governments, as it did during the Arab Spring. It can serve as a communication lifeline, as it did during the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima when cellphone networks went down. And it can make watching the red carpet a lot more fun.

And, much like George Alexander Louis, the new royal baby, whose birth caused Twitter to explode, it's also still an infant. Who knows where Twitter is going to take us? One thing we know for sure -- Twitter has won much more than the moment.