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December 21, 2008

Will Twitter Go Mainstream? The Debate.

As is common on early adopter circles, much of the discussion Twitter is about Twitter, and much of the talk on blogs is about blogging. As many of us find value in these services we interact with every day, part of us is rooting for them to exit our little niche and go big. In 2008, one of the services that threatened to break through and tickle the edges of the mainstream was Twitter. (At least when it was up)

Given the expanded roster of writers on louisgray.com, we polled the team and asked for opinions on the pros and cons of whether Twitter would ever cross that chasm. As Rob Diana summarized, Twitter, at times, looks to be on its way to mainstream acceptance, but it still has a way to go:

ProCon
Louis GrayPopular people are on it and it's very similar to text messaging, which is understood.It needs a lot of filtering and searching, and can get too busy. People post a lot of junk.
Rob DianaTwitter is simple to use. It is just like IM so there is not much of a change for most users, and CNN (and others) are talking about it already.Generally, there is too much noise for most people. The other issue is that most people don't want everything to be public.
Jesse StayIt will not go mainstream and there are no pros, unless you consider its current state mainstream. For it to go mainstream it needs direction. Are they trying to hit a professional audience or a personal audience? For it to go mainstream in either (i.e. rival LinkedIn or Facebook in numbers) it needs to decide what it is.They are not making money. It is too public, and it only fits a small niche of the population.
Mona NomuraTwitter is already established, so much so that major publications are picking it up. You KNOW a service has made it, when an "Internet job" lists the service as a required skill. Also, the ease of publishing will make it easier for adoption.Generally, it is unintuitive and 3rd party publishing tools are required. Some people may just not 'get it'.
Phil GlocknerTwitter, or a service very much like it, will go mainstream. When it does, we will see the downfall of SMS and ridiculous SMS charges (currently pricier than printer ink)Twitter will not go mainstream until another service appears that *MAKES* Twitter a cellphone SMS gateway. In other words, you use your cell phone the same way to send a text, but instead of costing money and being sent directly, it goes through Twitter. There will likely be a small monthly fee.
Daniel PritchettDiscovering interesting new people to follow is natural and easy. Your friends communicate with each other via @messages. This means it can keep growing and growing as long as new people are turned on to the service. If you join to follow @ricksanchezcnn you'll soon find yourself following 50 other people that you picked up in conversation.The inability to scale an individual's attention kills twitter once you get past a certain number of subscriptions. Some people do not like the service if they can not keep up with every single tweet that their subs send. Until these problems are better solved many people will be wary.
Mike FruchterIt has gotten a lot of exposure from CNN, and various mainstream press. There are thousands of applications built around it, and more being built. It has brought citizen journalism to new levels.CNN exposure is nice, but I feel it's simply not enough to take it to the next level of mainstream. It is still a tool that is primary used by geeky/tech crowd. The few celebs who use Twitter are the exception. I still can not see my mother, father, or sister using Twitter, at least not yet. It still lacks the features needed to go mainstream, video, images etc. It also needs more exposure to go mainstream. If Google or Facebook bought them it might be a different story.
Eric BerlinIt is intuitive enough that "civilians" can hit the homepage, register, post their first post and add a few friends within a minute. They can also quickly "get it" and see benefits. It is on the fringes of mainstream exposure with CNN, mentions on the Daily Show, Barack Obama and other non-web celebrities.The combination of other services (Facebook, FriendFeed, Yammer, and new ones not quite on radar yet) will steal Twitter's remarkable thunder and leave it behind.

As you can see, there are many different opinions on Twitter. It is somewhat familiar to mainstream users, as it is similar to instant messaging and text messaging. It may be easy to use, but there are some concerns that people will not "get it". You may need to use a third party client to efficiently use Twitter, but there are also many applications built on top of Twitter's API.

Everyone seems to agree that Twitter can be more than a little noisy. In order to counter that problem, Twitter needs more features like groups, filtering and more integrated searching. However, it needs to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Does it want to target personal users, and add features like including images, video or other files? Or does it want to make a play for professional users?

It's fun to speculate, and looking at Twitter opened a few thoughts in terms of how each of us interact with the service differently. There's no one right way to use Twitter, or any service. But we're seeing it change under our feet as it grows and gains in popularity. The question is, will it collapse under its own weight, or remain too geeky for it to ever belong in the real world?