Is Twitter About to Jump the Shark?
Speculation is out there about whether or not Twitter is peaking. Is the Social Network darling reaching its saturation point? If so, what will take its place? What is the next the big thing? What could possibly capture our imagination in the same way as Twitter?
As the medium of blogging started to plateau, was it any wonder that our attention-deficit angst would find micro-blogging a suitable alternative? In a world flooded with data overload, 140 characters or less seemed to strike just the right chord for many of us. But nothing lasts forever, as a wise Buddhist once told me (e.g. even the Dalai Lama was recently exiled from Twitterdom… but that’s another story).
So since a few warning signs are blowing in the wind, and a couple of red flags have been raised, it might be worth our while to explore what might be rolling down the social network highway.
Steve Rubel, an elite member of the twitterati with almost 20,000 followers is probably one of Twitter’s most vocal critics. He talks about how the intraweb has attracted celebrities and how this pop culture dynamic can become a double edged sword. As celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Britney Spears put their stamp of approval on Twitter, us common folk became blind-faith followers, attracted to the Twitterverse like moths to a flame. In turn, when something goes mainstream it begins to lose its “geek cred,” according to Rubel, and like nomads looking for the next oasis, the digerati will begin to lose interest and seek out greener pastures.
“Jumping the shark” is a pop-culture catch phrase coined by Jon Hein and has been used by TV critics and fans to mark the point when a TV show or series veers off its original plot course into an absurd story line departure. The phrase refers to a scene in a episode of the TV series “Happy Days”, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a shark while water skiing. This was particularly ironic, in that Fonzie, famous for being a biker, had previously jumped his motorcycle for a publicity stunt¢â‚¬â€but was severely injured in the process, and very remorseful for his actions.
He then learned a valuable lesson, and delivered a moral message, that taking foolish risks “isn’t cool.” In contrast, Fonzie’s later decision to take an even greater risk on water skis “to prove a point” came across as absurd in many ways (particularly since the “motorcycle jump” episode was a major point in Fonzie’s character development).
So the analogy of “jumping the shark” came to mean reaching a threshold and losing the interest of a fan base. Could Twitter have tipped that delicate balance, and be headed for a downhill descent? Will the Founding Fathers of Twitter abandon ship and mosey on down the Social Network trail?
I don’t think so! I think the rumors of Twitter’s demise are grossly over exaggerated.
I believe the basic premise of Twitter is brevity and access. Twitter, dissimilar Facebook and LinkedIn, requires less active participation on our part. While the group involvement of other social networks has its own appeal, they definitely require a focus that can eat up a lot more time than Twitter. I personally can keep my Twitter home page open all day long, and visit it periodically when I have a quick thought or a need to shake out some cobwebs. I can’t say the same of the others. On Facebook and LinkedIn, I get caught up in answering incoming mail, joining discussion groups, reviewing photos and videos, supervising memberships for groups I organized, and a myriad number of other tasks that can become exhausting at day’s end.
I also feel that the Wild West appeal of Twitter provides it with staying power. As a disorganized, chaotic venue, while it sometimes seems like you have entered the Tower of Babel, it is also comforting to be immersed into a space where multiple conversations are filling the void. In the Twitterverse, we are deluged with insights, perspectives, absurdities and the like, all donated freely in many cases by a motley assortment of strangers. It’s a global cocktail party where you can listen, participate or retreat periodically throughout the day. Its a water-cooler environment that never gets old and is definitely part of Twitter’s charm.
So to think about what might take its place is a daunting task. If you think that Twitter is a replacement for how we receive the news, then perhaps Twitter has taken the place of the newspaper. But if that be the case, US newspapers experienced logevity, having been around since the early 1700s. And yes, everything does move a lot faster in the electronic age, but it will be interesting to see how long social networks in general will last. Rubel and others are proponents of FriendFeed, Jaiku and Pownce as possible substitutes. However, it doesn’t look likely that they can gain the critical mass of support necessary to overtake the micro-blogging front-runner. Pownce has already shut down operations, and the others do not have the ease of access that Twitter possesses.
So, while Jon Stewart can satirically joke about Twitter’s ” faux-social network” competitors like “Grunter” and “Stalker,” I think the Twitterverse is going to continue to evolve with its devoted fan base for quite some time to come. “Jumping the Shark” is a bit premature at this stage of the game!