Five weeks ago I started using Twitter. I didn’t know what to really do with it, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. After five weeks, I’ve realized that I enjoy Twitter far more than any other social networking site. I always had a strong dislike for MySpace. It seemed pointless and obnoxious. I normally am an advocate for letting consumers do what they want with a product, but I don’t think I go out on a limb too much to say that it was a mistake of MySpace to enable millions of pre-teens, teens, and young adults with zero design sense with the power to control almost all aspects of a site’s color palette and media content. I’m not sure how many eyeballs have melted due to poorly “decorated” MySpace pages, but I’m sure it’s a very high number. Facebook always seemed rather pointless to me but at least it wasn’t obnoxious (until all those bleeding apps started popping up). However, I just never got into Facebook. Fundamentally it was boring. I generate new cyber-connections with people I already know, some of them who I haven’t seen in years, but that’s about it. Beyond the novelty of being discovered by old friends and following status updates, Facebook offers very little for me. Facebook did always have that perplexingly simple feature: the poke. I’m still not entirely sure what the acceptable use of the poke is except to start a poke war with somebody. I’ve been engaged in one poke fight for nearly a year.
I’ve always been skeptical of the longevity and the business model of social networking sites. Sure the big sites are worth lots of money and have a high number of users, but they barely turn a profit. The most mature (in a business sense) site, MySpace, barely made a profit last year, and most people are saying MySpace’s growth is getting cut by Facebook. Which highlights the main problem with making money out of social networking sites: the primary user base is young, fickle consumers with little money. Not only does it take a lot of bandwidth to keep these user’s eyeballs on the page, they are also probably going to be less likely to buy anything and will move on as soon as there is a new hotness to play with (c.f. Facebook’s meteoric rise which most likely comes at MySpace’s expense). The only thing these sites have going for them is they are a marketing gold mine. It’s tens of millions of users telling large corporations exactly what they are doing, what they like to do, what movies they watch, what music they listen to, how old they are, where they live, and at what stage of life they are in. It’s like Google’s AdSense on roids. Maybe this ability to do surgically precise advertising will save the social web behemoths, but I’m skeptical. Anyway, I’ve drifted off topic.
So, back to Twitter. Twitter is actually interesting. Interesting to the point that I go out of my way to somehow get my Twitter fix. Luckily, Twitter makes it easy for me since the main purpose of Twitter, reading and writing tweets, is available to me by nearly every piece of communication technology I use throughout the day: text message, IM, web site, and mobile web site. I have to be completely cut off from technology and wireless signals to not be able to get my Twitter on. The mere fact that Twitter is capable of getting me to adjust to it makes me think it is on to something (I’m not the only one). And though I have a goal of at least one tweet a day, I’m no hardcore Twitter user. Twitter is just so much more engaging (to the point of vowing to use it daily). I come back to the little text blurbs that my followees generate much more often than I go to Facebook, despite Facebook’s much more robust feature set and media capabilities. I generally go to Facebook either out of sheer boredom or because I haven’t updated my status in over a week. With Twitter, I’m constantly either refreshing the page or reading my RSS feed. I may even start having most of the updates sent to me via text. To be fair Twitter is still new to me so maybe my interest will wane, but I was never this interested in Facebook, except for maybe the first day I made my profile. All this being said, there is a critical mass problem with Twitter. Not a lot of people are using it currently, and even fewer are active users. So, most users have difficulty finding an “audience” or people to follow. And it’s not just following people, but finding interesting people to follow. If you don’t have interesting people with whom to interact, then Twitter largely loses its value since it’s significantly less about self-promotion. I personally enjoy following people as they share their thoughts, progress on projects, and life in general. That may make me sound creepy and lonely, but I think the rest of my life demonstrates the opposite.