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Twitter is over three years old and many people still don't get it. Just last week, The NewYorker's George Packer called it “crack for media addicts.” But will real-time oversharing services make it into the mainstream?

At The Future of Space and Time talk during Social Media Week in New York on Wednesday, panelists from the tech world noted that conditioning larger audiences to share their real-time info and location will be necessary for such technologies to truly take off.

And for advertisers, this could be the key to actually serving those relevant ads everyone's always talking about.

Sponsored by Wired, the talk featured panelists who all work on projects where users share information online, whether it be their location or answers posed by online users. And while gaming and social aspects have driven user rates to date, wider adoption dependson utility.

Chris Dixon, CEO and cofouner of Hunch, thinks it all comes down to Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma: 

"One of the key characteristic of new disruptive technology is that it starts out looking like a toy. That's so often why big companies ignore and dismiss it."

But the big hurdle for start-ups is to get users play with and use their tools on a daily basis. Dixon divides people into two groups for these purposes: "techies" and "normals." Many new digital tools are quickly adopted by techies, but "when it becomes critical infrastructure is when it crosses over to the normals," he says.

With adoption of location-based tools, things are just getting started. The tipping point will be when people start depending on the store of information they provide on a daily basis.

Tony Jebara, associate professor of Computer Science at Columbia University & Chief Scientist at Sense Networks, puts it this way:

"When you're in a new city, you have to start from scratch. And you realize how much better off you are with these tools."

It's exactly then, when services become personally useful, that people start saying "maybe my phone should be tracking me," says Dennis Crowley, co-founder of mobile check-in service Foursquare.

For advertisers, that is a pivotal moment. If users are voluntarily sharing information, they are more open to that info being used to serve them more pertinent advertising.

The online advertising industry is currently dealing with possible regulation from the Federal Trade Commision because consumers are often unaware or confused about how their personal information is tracked and used online.

But real-time microblogging and location-sharing services that are cropping up now get users to volunteer that information without any back channels.

Once a mass quantity of users get in the habit of sharing certain bits of data, they will have done much of the work of behavioral targeters for them.

According to Crowley:

"The data set that people want you to have about them is better than things that are collected passively about them."

Mostly because getting information directly from the source is better than trying to guess it from their browsing habits. The key, of course, is to get people sharing online — especially in spaces that are now considered "oversharing" by many consumers.

As Crowley puts it, "As you start to put together these interesting profiles, there's an opportunity for retailers to woo you to go from one spot to the next."

If advertisers deal with digital information shared online in the right ways, they'll end up improving consumer experiences instead of worrying about regulatory oversight. And as more of this information gets shared online, that will become more of a reality.

image: Dodgeball

Meghan Keane

Published 3 February, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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