Twitter – the Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?
14th April 09
The crescendo of noise around Twitter grows by the second. Yet while for many this delivers a symphony of Web 2.0 magnificence, crafted by millions of tweeting voices (Aaron Koblin managed only 2000, though it was far from symphonic), others hear nothing more than deafening silence. I’ve been trying to think through this paradox. Two events of the last week illustrate this tension well.
I had a message from my brother Tim (@malbonster), co-Founder of social media agency Made By Many in London, when I woke up here in NY. Tim is ‘into Twitter’. His message was subject titled: ‘I hope it’s not, but the fun bit feels like it’s almost over’. He was lamenting a tweet he’d read this morning from a friend (@netgrrl) which read: ‘Ah… I’ve mentioned coffee too many times now, I’m being inundated with follows from coffee marketers.’ Yes, I found myself nodding subconsciously, it’s being ruined. The crazy experimental bit with no rules, where no one has any idea how to monetize, or even whether it will be successful, and where marketing has been wrong-footed; that’s all gone . . .
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Yet almost immediately I recalled a blog post by John Winsor (@jtwinsor), Exec Director Strategy & Innovation at Crispin, from last week. In the post, ‘Does Twitter Really Matter?’ John was recounting how only 1 in 70 (yes, one in seventy) students in a senior class he was teaching at Boulder was using Twitter, and only one-third had even heard of it. This raises the question, as John puts it, are we just talking to ourselves? Or to the early adopters, ahead of the curve? He’s almost certainly right – a very small group of people are far more ahead of the majority than they would imagine.
But given this echo-chamber reality, is it possible Twitter can already be on the verge of being ruined by marketing (and what would that really mean, in any case?). Or is it more likely we’ve just seen the end of the ‘launch’ period?
The swirling winds of change continue to pummel us, there’s no doubt about it. The departure of social media pin-up children to more grown-up & well-funded companies where ‘social technology … can transform businesses, not just be used for viral marketing & word of mouth’ (see David Armano’s move to Dachis Corp), and the arrival on the scene of new ventures such as Twitter Partners, a company that helps big brands manage their identities on Twitter, confirms some structure is starting to be baked into the chaos.
Twitter has always had structure, but it’s been the awesomely simple internal discipline of 140 characters. These emerging and more external structures, and the organization of something that was previously wonderfully loose and liberating are undoubtedly going to transform Twitter and may indeed make it both better and worse, depending upon who you are and for what you use it. It’s certainly the case that Twitter skews older than many might have expected, and maybe this will impact the way it develops and is eventually monetized. It’s also certainly the case that there are some perception issues from which certain heavy users suffer. The most common of these being the disconnect between the frantic activity on one’s Tweetdeck or Tweetie app and the much less frantic readership of the tweets one actually puts there; it’s easy to mistakenly believe that one’s participating in a gigantic conversation featuring half the entire world when in fact only a tiny handful of people see most things posted (see Mike Brown’s comments under Winsor’s post for more on this). This might be creating the illusion of importance and/or Twitter overload in small numbers of hyper-connected people. And finally, it’s certainly true that just about everyone seems to be experimenting with how dollars might be squeezed out of Twitter; to some extent the tentacles of marketing are beginning to make themselves felt to everyday users. All true.
So where does this leave us, three years in? Steve Rubel (in today’s AdAge) boldly asserts that Twitter is now peaking and will soon be abandoned – by the geeks at least – for something newer, shinier and more edgy. I’m not so sure, I think the best is yet to come. This still feels like the start of something that has many iterations and plenty of nuances still being worked on in tiny start-ups or gestating in people’s brains (premium versions, groups, mobile functionality, ad models, video Twitter, family Twitter). It may simply turn out to be microblogging 1.0.
Whoever ends up being right about Twitter, the reality is probably relatively simple, and is most economically summarized by Sir Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”