Twitter goes mainstream – will it survive?

December 18, 2008 § 2 Comments

Just an observation: Twitter is in the the process of “crossing the chasm”.   Once accused of being the playground of narcissists and navel-gazers, the popular micro-blogging service is now going mainstream.  How do I know?  Well a few months back I used Twitter’s contact feature to see if there were any Twitter users in my Google contacts that I  was not already following.  There were three.  I did the same thing again a couple of minutes ago and there were now 120! And these weren’t techies, new adopters, and geeks.  All of my friends that fit those categories were already on the service and had been for some time now.  No, these folks are financial planners, real estate agents, business owners, interior designers, consultants, bankers, etc.

So my question is why?  Is it because the usefulness of Twitter has suddenly become widely understood and embraced by the majority?  I’d like to say yes, but somehow I doubt it.  I think the sudden rise in Twitter popularity is due mostly to CNN and the election coverage – and this is why I ask the question, will it survive?  Twitter’s ranks are filling, but will the new users add value or just consume resources?  Will they find a useful means of communication and embrace some kind of monetization of the system, or will the fail-whale dominate the site in between massive doses of sales pitches and self-serving links to personal and company websites?

Twitter, I’m rooting for you, but I think the jury is still out.

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§ 2 Responses to Twitter goes mainstream – will it survive?

  • Interesting observation, David. I’d be interested in hearing what value you think all of the non-geeks and non-narcissists will eventually place on Twitter and where you see the usefulness in a broader market. If you were to create a marketing program for Twitter what would it look like?

  • davidscohen says:

    I think it is too soon to tell. The great thing about the Internet is that it is this wonderfully democratic platform where experimental ideas can capture people’s interest and imagination. Novel ideas can spring up and flourish practically overnight. And the terrible thing is that as soon as an innovation appears to be becoming the “next big thing” it can become a magnet for those trying to exploit and game the system. An arms race then ensues with multiple players in the mix: the originators of a service trying to keep it stable and secure and working to protect a fragile system from being crippled by abusive use, and also trying to nurture a community that can participate in protecting their new-found playground; the exploiters trying to chase the popularity of a service and funnel traffic for selfish ends through spam, manipulation, hacking and phishing; 3rd-party innovators looking to create additional value in ways that th originators may not have anticipated, and may not be prepared to support; and every shade of gray in between.

    Twitter has a unique appeal in that it has a built in tug on a user’s vanity: whenever someone chooses to “follow” you it is hard to resist the urge to see who found you interesting enough to follow – curiosity alone can lead you to check out a user or website to see if you deem them worthy of following in return. But this is a shallow connection and not one that can create sustained interest. Twitter quite simply and wisely has made unfollowing an integral part of the system. The power is in the community’s hands to police their own accounts – at least from known offenders. The Twitter power users that I know have developed a jaundiced eye toward random followers and are unlike;y to fall for marketing tactics built on simply inviting large numbers of users via the follow mechanism. These users are selective and judgemental in terms of who they will follow. They use the service very conversationally and are only likely to explore items recommended by users they have come to trust and value within their self-defined communities. The thinking for the marketer in such a scenario needs to be the same as word-of-mouth. The best approach of course is to have a truly remarkable service, or product to begin with and to take a long-view, good karma, approach to building trust within a community of influence.

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