Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter might not last, but the concept will

Although I’m highly skeptical about Twitter as a business, I do think the concept of short message communication that it’s fostered will persevere.
Time magazine hit on this point in a June 5 story called “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live.” Writer Steven Johnson wrote:

Social networks are notoriously vulnerable to the fickle tastes of teens and 20-somethings (remember Friendster?), so it's entirely possible that three or four years from now, we'll have moved on to some Twitter successor. But the key elements of the Twitter platform — the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching — will persevere regardless of Twitter's fortunes, just as Web conventions like links, posts and feeds have endured over the past decade.

The only part of his argument that isn’t accurate is his implication that young people in their teens and 20s are the big users of Twitter. They’re not. Older people are driving the growth of the service. People ages 45 to 54 are much more likely to use Twitter than those 24 and younger. (See “Twitter isn’t cool; Too many old people use it.”)
Much of the content on Twitter is so much blather and a waste of time. But the service, which broadcasts users’ thoughts and opinions in 140-character updates, does have some utility.
It’s great for sharing links to longer articles, videos and interesting Web sites. This is especially true of media services using Twitter.
Scrolling through lists of microblog posts gets old fast, but the ability to do live searching on topics of conversation can be interesting. The Time article refers to this as the “super fresh Web.”
Red flags about Twitter’s prospects pop up in the form of studies into its user base.
First, there was a report in April by Nielsen Online about “Twitter quitters.” Nielsen determined that more than 60% of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month.
Then there was the comScore report in May about mostly older users (read: Oprah fans) gravitating to the service.
This month, a Harvard University study found that just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content. (See “Twitter hype punctured by study” by the BBC.)

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