Now that Twitter has gone more or less full circle — from a great idea to an overhyped phenomenon to another social media tool — the current debate centers around what will ultimately become of Twitter.
On one hand, we have people who see Twitter as a flash in the pan. The spammers and multi-level marketing trolls will take over the service, so the argument goes, as regular folks deem it’s just not all that interesting knowing what someone you barely know ate for breakfast. And it’s the rare celebrity who tweets themselves: most are the product of publicists. Where’s the fun in that? No thanks, the masses will conclude and give up Twitter as not worth the time or effort. Ultimately, Twitter as a company will fail or get sucked into say Microsoft and that will be that. Biz Stone will go off and make a business of selling rocks.
In the opposing camps, pundits like the NY Times David Carr are convinced that Twitter is here to stay. One emerging view is that Twitter is like plumbing – an essential component that makes the Internet what it is. Plumbing is something that will be around the long haul. Of particular value this group says is the immediacy of Twitter and the ability to quickly take the pulse on a range of topic.
It’s the rare company these days that lacks some sort of presence on Twitter. Most have their own Twitter feeds and some are even worth following. For the most part, many companies presence on Twitter seems to be a defensive move to keep competitors from getting a leg up. There have been some wins. As was widely reported – and tweeted – last year, Dell said it got some $6.5 million in sales just from Twitter, and without a well-defined strategy. That’s some serious payback.
While Twitter does have some social connection capabilities, the social experience on Twitter is unsatisfying at best. Facebook has proven to be a far more effective as a way to rekindle old friendships or forge new ones online. Similarly, I’ve found that Web 1.0 style forums are more effective than Twitter for getting answers to such daunting questions as why does my Microsoft Outlook keep getting stuck or should I get surgery on my broken wrist. (I did). Forums don’t arbitrarily limit message length and have much better organization and richer content.
The drawback to Twitter as a social relationship building tool is its core strength – the 140 character limit. Because of that defining characteristic, I think Twitter’s most important value is as an open, easily accessible, and fully customizable live 24 x 7 streaming headline service. Digg, for instance, provides something similar, but in a much more regimented and structured fashion. Plus, the fact that Digg votes are controlled behind the scenes in some sort of bizarre popularity contest is a real turn-off. The upcoming overhaul could change things and help Digg to be more Twitter-like.
Taken in the context of streaming headlines, there simply isn’t something like Twitter elsewhere on the Web with a comparable level of following and infrastructure. One of the great strengths of Twitter is all the many tools and resources that let you figure out how best to tap into the vast flow of Twitter information. For instance, my favorite HootSuite lets me build out columns based on search terms and hashtags so I can quickly find pointers to video, stories and blog posts I might find interesting or useful. It has largely replaced the need for RSS, which is just a bit too much work for most people.
As noted VC Bill Gurley explains in the video clip below, Twitter allows anyone to create their own distribution and following. If you’ve got some good content, write a compelling blog post, tweet about it and before long you’ve got a pulpit. That alone makes Twitter a good thing, and I am personally rooting for Biz Stone & co. to hang in there.
Follow me @BrianBuzz and let me know what you think.