When it comes to social networking, the big players appear to be in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out fight for, well, virtual supremacy. Here's some of what's been happening in the social networking arena.

Poor Man's E-Mail? Huh?

One of the oddest quotes in recent days was when Google's CEO Eric Schmidt called Twitter a “poor man's e-mail system.” Why would he say such a thing? Here's a link to an article that explains what he meant, and why he said it: http://tinyurl.com/dxtzfn. I find it funny to note that, despite its CEO's seeming contempt for the microblogging site, Google has a Twitter account of its own for all to follow. Something weird is going on here. Facebook is taking Twitter on, too. Take a look at the top of your Facebook account. Do you see the note about changes to its home page? In fact, by the time you read this, these changes — being implemented to compete with the recent buzz over Twitter — may be already in use.

Give Twitter Some Love

If you still haven't heard of Twitter, it's a Web service that allows people to “follow” friends and colleagues and read their updates in real time. Like e-mail, you can reply to their messages; unlike e-mail, your communication goes to all of your friends, not just the one you are replying to. (You can have a private discussion as well.) You are limited to just 140 characters in your post, though, which makes that TinyURL site I spoke about in my last column helpful in keeping you from exceeding that 140 character limit.

Many folks in our industry have found the need to begin tweeting (otherwise known as posting a Twitter message). In fact, at the Meeting Professionals International MeetDifferent conference in Atlanta earlier this year, MPI and many of the participants used Twitter to have a secondary, back-channel conversation about the event — while the event was going on. As of this February, one source has Twitter as the world's third-largest social network (after Facebook and MySpace), with roughly 6 million users.

Apps

There are plenty of tools and services that allow you to post and read your tweets from your desktop. One is TweetDeck, which allows users to organize their incoming tweets into categories that make it easier to follow threaded conversations. Wanna tweet on the go? If you're a BlackBerry user, check out Twitterberry. Using a gPhone? Twidroid is for you. Need stock advice (and who doesn't these days)? Join StockTwits.

Should You Tweet for Business?

Indeed. Many organizations are finding that following what is being said about them on Twitter is a great way to engage with their members in real time. If you want to see what is being said about your association, why not use Twitters' search feature? Put in the name of the organization, and see what's being said about it. Pretty powerful stuff.

So now you may be asking yourself, “Should I tweet?” Of course! I'd love for you to follow me at twitter.com/jspellos. Be sure, also, to follow Association Meetings' editor, Sue Pelletier. And you can follow MeetingsNet. Remember, as with any social networking service, the more you participate, the more you get out of it.

James Spellos, CMP, is founder and president of Meeting U., a New York-based company that provides training and consulting to meeting professionals. He also is a frequent speaker on technology at meetings industry conferences. Contact him at jspellos@meeting-u.com.