If you think of Google as the Internet's memory - the process that can access every image, sound and bit of knowledge that a decade of our online existence has generated and stored - then Twitter is its stream of consciousness.
"Stream" has become the standard term for the motley sequence of messages that arrives to you, if you are a Twitter user, from all the people you've chosen to "follow": friends, celebrities, industry luminaries, academics, businesses and so on. Like a stream of consciousness, the "twitstream" contains many kinds of thoughts, as well as a lot of useless half-thoughts, but all of it a reflection of what's on people's minds - right now.
"The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one," said a tweet that came down my stream last week. (A tweet is one of Twitter's short messages - limited to 140 characters.)
Like a thought from the digital overmind - Wildean as it appears to be - the tweet arrived just as I was searching the Twitter pool for messages that contained the phrase "got laid off." There were 50 of them in the previous 24 hours alone.
"Guess who got laid off," wrote a user named deboxi.
"Damn economy," wrote user josephbenninger, after noting his own termination.
Gothicmodel seemed less distraught in breaking her bad news. "Yayyy for unemployment!" she chirped. "Lol ... just looking on the bright side of things."
And that's what Twitter user and human resources consultant Mark Stelzner was trying to do on a recent morning over a bowl of corn flakes.
"It was one of these days where, over the course of the week, more and more job losses had been posted," he told me over the phone from Washington, D.C. Stelzner had amassed a respectable followship on Twitter, about 600 people. "And I thought, 'Well, what would happen if everyone who followed me helped one person find a job?' "
He shared the thought with his Twitter cohort, and they loved it. Later that day, Stelzner fired up a new Twitter account with just that altruistic mission - he called it JobAngels.
Three weeks later, the nascent enterprise has attracted more than 1,700 followers and another 1,000 on related Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
Stelzner has shot out hundreds of tweets from people volunteering their resume-proofing skills, passing along job notices or looking to become full-blown job angels - raising a wing for gig-seekers in need.
Flush with the glow of very early success, Stelz-ner and a few volunteer developers are building a networking site that takes the concept a step further, aiming to help seekers find the perfect angel.
"If Match.com and LinkedIn had a child, this is what it would look like," he said, referring to the popular dating and professional networking sites. Stelzner still must decide if it'll be a money-making venture or just a labor of love.
I'm not sure how the economy's affecting the online dating scene, but as for job seeking, LinkedIn - a major employment and referral site - says it's getting about half a million new users every week, at least twice the rate of a year ago, and the number of applicants per job has doubled, too.
No one likes a job shortage, of course. But to employment professionals comfortable in the realm of social media, the growing appetite for work spells opportunity - if not for profit, then at least for a chance to play Web entrepreneur.
And Twitter's skyrocketing popularity has engendered its own culture of micro start-ups - small, off-the-cuff outfits like JobAngels that offer a simple service and are generally built in days or weeks rather than the months or years it can take big software developers to get to market. With light-speed business building, planning a revenue model is usually at the bottom of the priority list - especially in a recession. The Field of Dreams approach is often the mentality of choice for excited Web innovators.
Recruiting industry pros Robin Eads and Michael Quale, a couple from Tampa, Fla., built a job bulletin board in a little over a month using free online software. JobShouts.com has two advantages over big brothers like Monster.com and craigslist, on which posting fees can add up for employers: Not only is it free, but every job that's posted there is instantly tweeted to all of the company's followers, many of whom "re-tweet" the notices to their own mini-audiences.
Since the company launched two weeks ago, it's seen more than 200 job postings, including from the likes of Google and JPMorgan. No word on the first hire.
But though 200 or 300 job tweets a day may sound like a lot of leads, it's not. If the job happens to be in your career zone, the likelihood that it's also near you is small. The Twitter job ecosystem and its newborn applications are not sophisticated enough to give targeted offerings - so finding a good lead takes plenty of patience.
"You could sit there all day and read posts on Twitter," said About.com employment analyst Alison Doyle, who's been tweeting job advice herself. "But you might miss some, or they might not be the right position for you."
It's just one tool of many, she said, but the old-fashioned rules still apply. "It gets back to - when you're job searching - your connections are going to be critically important."
Indeed, when the going got tough for Warren Sukernek, a prolific Twitterer from Seattle, the tweets got going. Just before Christmas, Sukernek sent out a solemn tweet to his 2,800 followers. "Friends, I have just been laid off. As a digital strategist, I would appreciate any leads or opportunities that you would be aware of." Sukernek was amazed to see his small army of followers reach into its own pool of connections.
Within a week, he had a dozen interviews.
What's his advice to Twitter users looking to leverage the service to help them find a job?
"Build your network before you need it," Sukernek told me.
He's been enjoying his new gig at a Canadian Web firm, praise be to Twitter, for a little more than three weeks now.