Random thoughts on a variety of subjects
by Sam Redman
Twitter seems to have several “uses,” but the question is how many of these are really significant to the extent that they will remain necessary to an ongoing group of users.
First, it is a means for businesses to provide “specials” and announce products. In that function it is just the latest iteration of the handbill. Some cities still allow advertising flyers to be distributed door to door, hanging little plastic envelopes on door knobs. Twitter is an electronic handbill for many users. Another variation of that is the unsolicited junk mail (and other advertising mail done with “permission” where stores ask for your mailing address “to receive our sales flyers and specials”) which the post office still carries at low rates. Prior to, but concurrent with Twitter is the permission spam business email. “Let us put you on our email list” is now joined by “follow us on Twitter.” Getting notifications from businesses probably does suit some people’s needs (such as having an airline send out weekend getaway flight bargains) and so it seems that this one area where Twitter has joined email, serving some very willing recipients. That’s not my “cup of tea,” but it has its place for many people. Nothing earth shaking there… just another “opt-in” direct marketing tool.
Secondly, it is a means for Twittering “celebs” to be able to provide statements or “salient” comments about current news events (or about other “celebs” deaths or misfortunes”), so they can get quoted on television or in other media outlets. To me it is irritating to hear any newscast where a big segment of the news story is displaying four or five “tweets” from various egocentric famous people. “Famous Joe Blow committed suicide today or there was a disaster in Bangadesh and here are some tweets providing the reactions from various famous people.” All those, of course, just say the obvious or obligatory regrets about the death or tragedy. Additionally, for various celebrities Twittering is just like the first example, another means of direct marketing to their “fans.” It’s the old fan newsletter now done in an new electronic way, like they have been doing by email for the past twenty years.
Thirdly, Twitter is just a way of mass instant messaging to someone’s own small circle of friends. Social clubs use it, church groups and merely people who have a their own personal group of friends or family for posting events or just to provide intrusive updates about what they are doing (“heading out for a coffee” or “check out this website”). Facebook really seems to make more sense for these and although they overlap, Facebook’s tools really seem superior to Twitter for this function.
Fourthly, it evidently is a way to fill some sort of news reporting gap for, on the scene, up to the minute news accounts where people witnessing some event as it is happening can post about it. That is one usage which has obviously excited journalists or conventional media reporters, because it relates to what they do and it helps them fill their columns and broadcasts (as do those celebrity Twitter comments on events). Maybe that’s it’s real place in our culture.
In the software world several developers are offering “Twitter” and “Facebook” clones so that for closed groups the trademark programs are not needed, but that’s indication that the Twitter concept has a place and will serve certain segments. I think that Twittering will have a history similar to the very software tool from which it was spawned, the IM (instant message). When I first used it (with ICQ and later with Yahoo and Windows messaging) I was really fascinated and encouraged everyone I knew to get it and have IM running at all times when they were connected to the internet. What a thrill to be able to reach all these people (and have them reach me instantly). I thought it was a valuable business tool, but after a while we all began to realize that we didn’t have the time for those interruptions (email and voice telephoning are better) and IMing has settled into its place as an internet tool for lonely hearts and teenagers or people in sales rooms communicating with their fellows and superiors. SMS (texting) which is just IM on the mobile phone has taken a similar evolutionary path (kids love it). Yes, useful to some adults, but an annoyance to most. I see Twitter following the same path.
Twitter (and clones) will be around and settle into its “place,” like IM and SMS, because actually all of them are truly variations of the very same computer application.