Monday, 11 May 2009

Will twitter become as ubiquitous as email or is it a fad?

I know blogging about Ashton Kutchner now makes me a late adopter when it comes to twitter goss but it's only recently that I've had a chance to take a good look at my psyche profile when it comes to twitter. 

Over the last year or so I've seen many blog posts and articles about the adoption process for twitter and unlike email, instant messaging and even sms where the benefits are obvious the one thing common to most of these writeups about twitter are that it takes a while for people to "get" twitter. Let me get back to this point a little later and jump to understanding who are the early adopters in twitter.

Apparently I joined twitter on the 3rd July 2007, or so I'm told by this site, which means that I've been using this service for almost two years. Sure, in the beginning it was on again off again but now it seems that I generally tweet anywhere between 7-10 tweets a day. Not a huge amount, and certainly enough to still stay connected with various other folk on twitter. When you look at the other people that were on twitter during that time, you'd notice that they fit a certain profile. One of the first people that I followed on twitter was @scobleizer who at the time raved about how it was a great way to tap into the minds of his then twenty or so thousand twitter friends. But if you look at him as an example, he is a tech blogger and it was his job to know what was the next big thing in social media. As I expanded my network I found that most people who were active on twitter were actually bloggers and much of the chatter was about social media (if not twitter itself). As time went on this group evolved into less tech related and through @christinelu intially, I also found people in China. Gradually my networks became less about geekiness and more about common interests. 

To cut a long story short though, I would consider myself on the tail end of the early adopters and as time went by, and the audience became more mainstream and certainly more interesting. This brings me back to my point about the first stage of twitter adoption.

When you look at the early adopters of Twitter it is not like the early adopters of email or instant messaging. When I used to chat up girls in other universities in the UTS computer labs, I used it because it made sense. I certainly wasn't going to pick up the phone and make an international call to flirt with someone whom I never met. It just made sense. Email is another example where it superceded normal post. It was a new way of doing something that we always did.

Twitter doesn't supercede anything unless you are in the business of broadcasting (in the journalistic sense) or blogging (which is really the evolution of the printed word). What twitter really supercedes is the newspaper seller on the corner shouting "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

I fully realise that I am over simplifying things and there are other issues related to engagement and interaction that I am ignoring but these other uses of Twitter are intiated by someone first tweeting something that someone else feels compelled to respond to.

That is why most people don't immediately "get" Twitter. Because the bulk of us aren't broadcasters. We don't feel the need to stand on a soap box and yell out our opinions. (The irony here is that DEDLOG is essentially my soap box.) For most of us we are quite content to just read about it and chat amongst our real friends. The early adopters who did "get" twitter were people who either wanted to be heard or are in the business of sharing information. 

Now about Ashton Kutchner, CNN and Oprah. What did they do to the twittersphere? They brought with them, through their influence and popularity, what looks to be the center of the bell curve. When these people who are doctors, students, accountants, brick layers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, joined twitter they did so because they wanted to know what all the fuss is about. When they actually get onto Twitter, they are greeted with pointless ramblings from various celebrities, news they can get from the TV or newspaper. In essence they joined a platform that provides them with junk. This pretty much explains why in a recent Neilsen study, they found that 60% of new twitterers dropped out after a month.

Will twitter become as ubiquitous as email? My feeling right now is that it won't, for the simple reason that not everyone needs a soap box. The same reason why not everyone who uses MSN Messenger has their own podcast. 

How long will Twitter last? It's likely that it still has a good three to five years to go before something better comes along (or Twitter evolves into something else) but give it another 12 months we will reach the tail end of the bell curve and people will realise that (unless they are willing to dedicate time away from real social interaction with this type of faux social interaction) Twitter will become another, albeit better, news and information source that is made up of bloggers, journos, advertisers and the those who manage to filter out the noise to get to the content.

No comments: