While driving my kids to school this morning I caught a discussion on the radio about Twitter being 5 years old today. This had completely passed me by. But as it is the day I decided that a little blog-post would be in order.
I was not one of the early adopters of Twitter and preferred Jaiku (which emerged at the same time) more and didn’t really start using Twitter until April 17th 2007. That still means that I am coming up on my 4 years on Twitter. I made the move because most of my contacts on Jaiku had started to use Twitter and it was purely a question of numbers. Twitter was like the grubby, loud pub on the corner which you hate but where all your mates hang out. I still consider Jaiku far superior with its threaded discussions, channels etc. However Google bought Jaiku and basically let it die. It’s still there and a few of the stalwarts are still using it but the buzz is gone.
So I looked back at my Twitter usage over the last few years and realised what a huge part of my daily life it has become. The first thing I do in the morning is check my phone to catch up with news via Twitter and it’s the last thing I do before I close my eyes in the evening. I get my news fixes on Twitter, I tweet friends to see if they have time for a coffee/beer/chat, I raise support for a charity, I retweet things I find important, funny or entertaining and I discuss current affairs/politics/business on Twitter. I also promote my businesses and projects via Twitter and interact with customers and suppliers. In doing all this I have accumulated 17 (!) Twitter accounts and have clocked up close to 100,000 tweets. Some of the accounts I haven’t used for a while but they are there if I need them.
There is a lot of discussion about who are the “top tweeters” and most of the time a list of celebrities is rolled out and followers numbers of millions are mentioned. I can say with a certain level of authority that this is NOT what twitter is about. Having 5 million followers but failing to interact and communicate with any of them makes one a useless tweeter. Someone with 100 followers who engages in frank and lively discussion is a much better contributor to the Tweet-o-sphere. The same goes for companies. You can be a public transport company and tweet info on all your services, delays and special offers but if you categorically fail to reply to other tweeters asking you something you have failed. As a company you are better of not having a twitter account than having one and failing to interact and communicate. Twitter is about giving and taking.
Twitter is also about stripping down the six degrees of separation to just one. If you want you can get in contact with almost anyone you want on Twitter. You can talk/tweet with celebrities, politicians and high-flying business people but you might also stumble across your first love or an old friend that you have lost touch with. It is a mine of information and the ultimate tool if you need a question asked or a problem sorted out. By becoming the new Google and it’s the new Roadside Assistance, Twitter really has become the horizontal and the vertical.
But what makes Twitter the success that it is? Because, deep down it is just another version of Usenet brought into the 21st century. In my opinion Twitters success is down to how it capture this “thing” going by the terrible name of “Zeitgeist”. It feeds people’s urge to be in plugged into 24/7, to have a network of people to feed in to and to know everything that happened everywhere instantly. It feeds the hunger for information about matters equally important and inane and it lets all of us become anonymous voyeurists.
So where is it going? I would be lying if I said that I know. What I do know is where I would like it to go. I don’t necessarily want more information but I would like better information (curation maybe?), I want the follower/following ratio removed or changed, I would like less spam but don’t believe that this will be possible. I would also like people to stop expecting people who they follow to follow them back. Tweet more interesting stuff if you want a follower. It would also be great if my DM’s were searchable, if I could select and delete large numbers of DM’s and if I could search within a users tweets.
Would I pay for this? NO. I expect that if Twitter ever started charging that it would drive down user numbers significantly. It might make it a commercial better business though. But that’s a different argument.
In the end I am delighted that there is such a thing as Twitter so HAPPY BIRTHDAY Twitter!