January 12, 2009

No, Tech Blogs Should Not Shut Up About Twitter

By Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Pete Cashmore at Mashable asks: Should Tech Blogs Shut Up About Twitter? Allow me to state for the record: no.

Cashmore, responding to some not-so-nice comments about Mashable on Digg, muses whether or not tech and online media blogs have "let our Twitter infatuation spiral out of control." However, he also notes that "Twitter, clearly, is the next big thing in social networking."

First of all, let's take a quick look at the recent history of "next big things" in social networking. MySpace absolutely dominated tech news and the blogosphere circa 2005 and 2006 (how soon we forget!), which transitioned to equally staggering coverage of "MySpace killers" and, of course, Facebook. Facebook apps and Facebook's meteoric growth are both reasons why it continues to enjoy a great deal of attention today.

Even though Twitter's audience size is relatively smaller than the MySpace/Facebook level kicking off 2009 (though its growth rate of 752% in 2008 was monumental), there's enough buzz, innovation, and compelling storylines surrounding the 140 character-based communications platform to warrant an intense level of coverage.

Are some/many blogs chasing Twitter stories just to get in on the hype and drive page views? Of course, but that's true of all big stories across any subject area.

All of that said, I relate to Cashmore in that I've thought about my own level of focus on Twitter. However, as I discussed over the new year's break, I've tried to focus on areas within the online world and social media that intrigue me without worrying about outside factors, so if I personally focus "too much" on Twitter, so be it!

Now, here are reasons why I think that Twitter deserves lots of obsessing and coverage in 2009.

It has the potential to go "mainstream"
There are pretty good arguments on both sides for whether or not Twitter has the potential to go "mainstream" (check out a great discussion of this topic here). I would argue that it does have the potential, which we can roughly define as 10 million users or so. Either way, Twitter's explosive growth and massive potential warrants ongoing coverage.

Twitter apps, plug-ins, and add-on services
Twitter's open API has opened up a flood of innovation around building tools and services that benefit the Twitter community. Much like Facebook's development platform, Twitter has smartly tapped into the resources of the "crowd," allowing its audience to become tied to and invested in the success of the underlying platform.

It's where the geeks, influencers, and increasingly the cool kids are at
Even though Twitter has been around a little while (by webby standards), it's early adopters and geek enthusiasts have not abandoned it, even though bright and shiny objects such as FriendFeed came calling… along, let's not forget, with a bunch of would-be Twitter killers such as Pownce, Identi.ca, Jaiku, and Plurk.

It's starting to spill over into mainstream media and regular (read: non-insane online addicts like us) life
CNN is promoting Twitter, comedians joke about Twitter, moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas are just starting to get into the swing of it. Quoting myself from last month's the Twitter mainstream debate: "It 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." In other words, Twitter is for real."

It's an important part of the overall storyline
We're in an interesting period right now. I'm tempted to say "unique" but every phase or era is unique in its own way. What we do know is that the economy is in recession, but that the underlying issues have little to do with the tech sector. But what has happened is that the downturn has shut the door on the loosely-termed web 2.0 era, which had already been in its silly season anyway.

I like to say that we're in a post-web 2.0 era. It's not web 2.0, it's not web 3.0 (whatever that will come to mean, led by crazy semantic web or mobile technologies, or something). What we do know is that web communities, social networks, or whatever you want to call them, continue to evolve.

Think about it. Even though MySpace is still one of the most popular websites – and a social networking website at that – on the Internet, no one really talks about it anymore. MySpace is part of the past, while Twitter is right in the center of the conversation of where things are now, and where they're headed.

It's got a good beat that you can dance to
Okay, maybe it doesn't. But the point is that if you hang out on Twitter, you feel a pulse of activity that lets you know that people are meeting, engaging, and chitchatting.

People who love Twitter love it because it fits a need in their life. And as I've written about before, a key reason why its strong growth continues is because its flexibility allows it to fit different kinds of needs for different kinds of people.

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist