The term "Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)" has been used for years to describe the discipline concerned with improving computer technology for humans. All those years, the focus was on improving the ways in which humans could get information into and out of computer systems. Of course, that discipline is still going strong. However, with the advent of Web 2.0, I'd like to suggest that the term "Human-Human Computer Interaction" is more directly relevant.
I've written previously in this blog about various aspects of Web 2.0 and have made the point that much of so-called wisdom of crowds was really the wisdom of a few in the crowd. In other words, many of the Web 2.0 sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, and Digg have contributions of content from less than one percent of their users. However, such is not the case with Web 2.0 sites and services that truly involve Human-to-Human connections. These include MySpace, Facebook, and perhaps the best example Twitter.
Twitter is a fascinating phenomenon. When you describe Twitter to someone, they invariably respond with something like, "I can't imagine why anyone would use that". They're of that view until they first try it and then they're hooked. Twitter essentially involves keying in 140 characters of text (that's right, no graphics) and allowing others to read what you write (followers) and you being able to read what others write (following). That's it, full stop.
So, what's the appeal? Human-to-human contact. Its really easy to access the service. In addition to using the website, you can text in your updates using your cell phone (if you're in North America), you can use various desktop applications (Twirl is my favorite), and you can use various iPhone/iPod Touch apps (Twitterrific is my favorite). And, its really easy to follow other people and have them follow you. What about the content, you say. Well, I follow industry leaders, news services, and friends. Many of those as well as people who listen to my podcasts follow me. I can stay current with current events and news by the minute as they unfold, read about websites and blog posts that people whom I follow recommend, and I get a personal insight into the lives of people whom I follow and the same goes for people who follow me.
What's interesting from a design point of view is that Twitter has virtually no user interface to speak of - just 140 characters of content. The important insight to take away from the huge success of this application/service is that it is fundamentally a really easy way to connect human-to-human in a way that people find it powerful and valuable. Lots of Web 2.0 technologies and tools try to deliver on this promise but most fail. The reason why this one hasn't is its amazing simplicity and its support of what makes us human.
If you'd like to try it for yourself, just go to www.twitter.com and sign up (its free of course). And if you'd like to follow me, I'm karelvredenburg on Twitter.