March 4, 2009

To Twit(ter) or Not To Twit(ter)

It is for some time now that I wanted to write about Twitter, the latest upshot of the Social Media and current web fad that spreads like wild fire among Millennials. If you wonder what Millennials are (and also want to have some fun) have a look also to this Video.
For those who do not know yet what Twitter is: It is a combination of online community, instant messaging (messages called Tweets of up to 140 characters) and blog (micro blog) allowing people to inform their network what are they doing every moment of the day and occasionally spread news (like the Mumbai attack, the landing of the American Airlines jet in the Hudson river and the crash landing of the Turkish Airlines jetliner in Amsterdam) faster than the traditional mass media and even faster than YouTube!!
I have a Twitter account for some time already but I have not activated yet, I opened the account out of professional curiosity. After a first look to it I was not sure what value would add this application to my already digitally overloaded life and decided to wait until I knew more about it.
I know now something more about it and I can share it with you to help you make up your mind if you haven't done it yet. Participating in a seminar a few weeks ago (80% of participants belonging to the Millennials segment) I noticed that many people came with their notebooks and of course the first thing that crossed my mind was that they wanted to make notes and maybe look to their email from time to time. I know how a Twitter session looks like so I quickly spotted two guys that I could look to their screens having a Twitter screen on that was constantly updated with the twits of their friends ( the guys were busy with at least 3-4 more things online at the same time but this is normal with multi-tasking people). If my sample ( two out of two = 100% ) was representative then practically everyone with a notebook in the room was doing the same. I really wondered if these guys heard a word of what was said in the seminar but this is another story; I could not help wondering if it is normal that I found the whole thing a bit of nonsense.
The answer to my question came after looking to a recent interview of the Twitter CEO Charlie Rose who declared that in "five years normal people will also use Twitter". This was a big relief, the normal people do not use it yet!! This interview was followed by the news that the Eric Schmidt the CEO of Google, referred to Twitter as " A Poor Man's email system" (despite the fact that Google has also a Twitter account!!). Maybe a reaction to accusations that Google is out because it is too slow! According to some circles Google can find things on line a few hours after they happen and not the moment they happen! What a shame!

Trying to stay objective I would warn those jumping into the Twitter train of the danger of addiction. What I saw in that seminar points only to something like this.
On the other hand one should think very seriously whether his or her life on a 24 hours basis is so important and interesting that everyone should know about it. It sounds like some kind of exhibitionism (although the devoted twitters will say that it is a form of communication) that we see more and more entering our life and found normal by many.
As to the commercial value of this application as a marketing tool I can imagine that it could spread very quickly news and advertisement although the users do not seem to be interested for such things. Yet many companies are already opening Twitter accounts like last year when everyone was talking about the unlimited commercial potential of Second Life (that proved to be hot air for the biggest part).
One matter of concern should be what the effect of Twitter addiction can be on working peoples' productivity. It would be interesting to see a study about such effects. As to the highly praised speed of Twitter to spread news very quickly I wonder what is the problem if you hear about the breaking news 10 minutes later in the TV or radio?

Finally what will be the future of Twitter? Is it another fad or it is here to stay? One thing I have learned the last years is that making predictions for such things can be quite tricky although my predictions about SecondLife on June last year seem to be correct. I have the feeling that the public that stormed SL last year is the same one loading the web with tweets now so I expect something similar to happen again. When they will have enough of it they will swarm around something else and the Twitter will disappear from the headlines.

p.s. 1 Interestingly one of the ministers of the Dutch cabinet is twitting, he irritated the prime minister sometime ago when he published a photo from a cabinet meeting online.
p.s. 2 I will keep tracking Twitter and inform you of developments