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!
From the start of his campaign, Barack Obama has distinguished himself as the articulate, tech-savvy candidate who utilized social networking to his advantage. As a direct result, he generated wide support from the online digerati, who collectively comment on the state of the union daily via social media outlets. Euphemistically described as the “wisdom of the crowds” it’s a common belief that there is a certain zeitgeist that emanates when millions of people are reacting to the same topic at the same time. Whether or not there is disagreement along the way, what ends up bubbling to the surface is a certain level of consensus.
Now, it appears that Obama is going to the source. In an unprecedented move, our Commander in Chief, who has been known to be an out-of-the box thinker, is turning to the CEO and co-founder of Twitter for advice on the economy. Yes, Mr. “Evan Williams goes to Washington” is Obama’s latest chess move in our financial game of woe. On March 6, 2009, Evan Williams and 20 other entrepreneurs met with the president.
However, judging from William’s White House tweet, the Twitter co-founder was perplexed by Obama’s invitation and was not quite sure what he could contribute when he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Twitter was founded by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. It began in March 2006 as a research and development project inside San Francisco’s podcasting company Odeo, and officially rolled out as Twitter in April, 2007. Twitter’s evolution and growth during that time span is comparable to Obama’s meteoric rise in popularity and historical electoral victory.
On February 27, 2009, Williams appeared at the Ted 2009 Conference in Long Beach California to discuss Twitter’s explosive growth.
Actually much of Twitter’s recent street cred can probably be attributed to its role as a new-age electioneering tool used by Barack Obama. Once Obama won and the news media started analyzing his success, Twitter and its world of microblogging experienced heightened media attention, and the twitterati started lining up in droves.
Marking Twitter as a mainstay in today’s culture, the microblogging phenomenon was legitimized when it was satirized by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. In his typical mock-news banter he allowed one of his faux-correspondents to eviscerate this new trend as a self-indulgent obsession.
There are countless other examples of Twitter’s popularity going mainstream. The Chicago Tribune ran an article on Twitter’s increasing popularity among lawmakers in Congress.They noted that Louisiana Governor Jindal tweeted Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer during the recent Presidential Address to the nation.The website “OhMyGov.com” lists the Twitter addresses of a good number of our elected officials. On an MSNBC broadcast, even John McCain touted the benefits of tweeting daily and the opportunity it gave him to critique all the earmarks he found in the recent bailout bill.
As Williams told Charlie Rose on a recent broadcast, Twitter is still undecided about the best path to monetization, but what Twitter has embraced closely parallels the themes that surfaced during Obama’s campaign. Obama and Williams seem to have struck a similar chord when they talk about the ability to tap into man’s basic desire for communication and socialization. Transparency and authenticity were components that Obama reinforced as the essential needs of the American people. Evans illustrates how his social network embraces these core elements of our human nature.
While Twitter is lambasted regularly by critics for being supported by venture capital and having no real revenue model, with over 6 million registered users and 700% plus growth, Twitter is definitely on to something. But what?
Monetizing Twitter is especially interesting because of its size and structure. One can assume, when there is excessive user adoption, a revenue stream should follow. Conjecture however abounds as to how Twitter can become fiscally sound. Some indicate it will be acquired by Google. Others say that banner ads and keyword ad sales will become its cash cow. Currently, however, the consensus of opinion seems to be that Twitter will eventually monetize itself through the value of its real time search capabilities. But nothing is jumping off the page just yet as the next BIG IDEA, or one worthy of the president tapping into this resource as a potential cure for the economy.
Unless Barack Obama has determined that the best decision for the country is to base that decison on the “wisdom of the crowds!” While Bill Clinton favored polling as a decion-making barometer, this type of metric may not have elicited the most accurate results. Avoiding the filter of sample surveys, and by going direct to the people, the President can gain insight from not only those that put him in office, but also from those that voted for other guy. Perhaps the Obama plan is to examine the collective zeitgeist at this moment in time, so that his next chess move is in consort with general opinion. And perhaps the Twitterverse is the first stage in the mining process for that opinion.
Many predicted that some day the “Network will become the Computer” – and the IT giants of Microsoft, Amazon and Google are investing millions to tell you that time is now! The “remote” computing revolution in its simplest form means that PCs will eventually become antiques and all of our files, documents and classified information will eventually be stored literally online.
While weather forecasts aren’t always reliable, the digerati have come to depend on the services of the venerable top global search engine known as Google. So when its system fails, which it has been known to do of recent date, our collective confidence is shaken.
Most recently on February 24, when Google’s email system GMail ran out of juice, alarms went off throughout all of Cloud-ville. British users were the first to report that the system was down, and tests in New York at 7:30 AM EST revealed intermittent service where many users were unable to send or receive emails. Mobile Gmail service appeared to be down until about 8:45 AM EST.
Google did respond quickly with a posted apology: “We’re aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a number of users,” Google said in an advisory on its Gmail support site. “We’re working hard to resolve this problem and will post updates as we have them. We apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused.”
As we have come to expect, this news sent the twitterati into overdrive, with European critics labeling the incident another case of “Gfail!” A Dutchman with the Twitter handle of mmarjolein reminded us of Google’s monopolistic control by tweeting: “Dependence is a bitch.”
A subsequent update appeared 3 hours later, when Google ultimately resolved the problem: “Many of our users had difficulty accessing Gmail today. The problem is now resolved and users have had access restored. We know how important Gmail is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously, and we apologize for the inconvenience.”
The impact of such an event affects a multitude of users. According to comScore, Google is the world’s third most popular web mail service just slightly behind Hotmail’s 283 million and Yahoo’s 274 million e-mail users.
This is not the only time Google caused panic. On January 31, 2009, Google also caused the Internet world to stand still for a whole 40 minutes! At that time, Google’s core service came to a halt. If one was to conduct a Google search, the warning message “This Site May Harm Your Computer” appeared persuasively underneath each and every search, leaving millions of surfers stranded in cyberspace.
Initially, the “malware” warning made searchers fear that the entire Internet was infected – because, after all, doesn’t Google actually control the entire Internet? Subsequent reports indicated that Google’s security messaging experienced a major melt down and was being repaired.
Once again the Twitterverse went abuzz alerting fellow twitterers of the mayhem with tweets that included the hashtag #googmayharm. As the micro-bloggers fired off moment-to-moment and play-by-play updates, 1000s of tweets flooded the system! One blogger said the glitch showed the dangers of having the majority of Internet users in the world relying on the Google monoculture for searches. Another, one BradBrownDotCom, joked: “The Google outage frightened me like a schoolgirl, until I remembered an old technology called ‘Yahoo’.”
So what is Cloud Computing, and how unreliable is it?
Cloud computing is an emerging technology available to e-commerce and other site owners who don’t have the time or resources to handle an information technology infrastructure. Cloud computing allows merchants to buy computing services and pay for them as they need them. Merchants can store images, content and data in the cloud for very low cost and serve it directly out of the cloud without developing their own internal mainframe.
Cloud users don’t pay for overhead or services they are not using. So, when demand is high, they pay for more services and when the demand decreases, they pay for less. The flexibility of cloud computing can be particularly appealing for e-commerce companies that experience seasonal shifts in sales activity. More and more companies that don’t have the time to deal with IT issues look to cloud computing for the majority of their data storage and retrieval.
What does Google’s cloud look like?
It’s a network made of hundreds of thousands, or by some estimates 1 million, inexpensive servers, each not much more powerful than the PCs we have in our homes. It stores staggering amounts of data, including numerous copies of the World Wide Web. This is the engine that propels searches faster, helping to ferret out answers to billions of queries in a fraction of a second. Unlike many traditional supercomputers, Google’s system never ages. When its individual pieces die, usually after about three years, engineers pluck them out and replace them with new, faster boxes. This means the cloud regenerates as it grows, almost like a living eco-system organism.
Temporary failures like Google’s highlight the risks and challenges for IT decision-makers considering cloud computing. During this outage, while an estimated 113 million Gmail accounts were forced to resort to Google’s new offline mode, introduced last month, the balance of Google service users were forced to just wait in a stalled position or use an alternate email service.
Liability for Google?
Criticism is building and many users are questioning whether glitches that affect so many will damage Google’s reputation. Given their generally unshakable reliability, it’s hard to imagine that these two incidents won’t have some detrimental effect on our confidence in Google’s dominance in the search world. Particularly, considering the amount of potential business that may have been lost by business travelers that rely heavily on Gmail, when traveling.
While Cloud Computing is the wave of future, Google lovers who entertain fantasies of a world without desktop PCs may have their heads in the clouds. Yes, many people will run Google apps that access cloud-based data, but dependency is the issue we will we will continue to rant about when the systems fail. During the short term, while this new technology is attempting to perfect itself, storing your data on the Internet is risky business, particularly when the forecast is indicating cloudy, overcast and no Gmail!