One of my favorite clients, Fabrice Grinda, believes that Twitter is all hype. Call it Twitter Skepticism — the kind of unwarranted hype associated with Second Life. I consider this a fine challenge, so I left a comment — well, I left an entire rant, and didn’t even get into talking about organic SEO, PageRank, and the like. Tell me what you think:
Long story short, Twitter is light, cheap, open and permanent where Second Life is heavy, expensive, closed and ephemeral.
Twitter does everything right where Second Life failed.
Second Life is amazingly heavy, requiring lots of computer, lots of bandwidth, and a commitment to client software. SecondLife is a closed system, a walled city, completely invisible to serendipity and coincidence. Second Life is greedy, pushing avarice and commerce. Second Life is ephemeral and anti-textual, meaning that all of the work and all of the energy one spent on Second Life invariably went away the moment people stopped investing time and money into the platform. While there was a programming language, a scripting language, and lots of room for creativity, Second Life was not nearly as agnostic and open a platform as it could have been.
On the other hand, Twitter is open and has a fantastically generous API (open API as opposed to a closed API). Twitter is highly textual, highly “contagious,” and very much real time.
Google always wants to know it is up to date, that it is on top of everything. They’re constantly insecure that they will lose the war to upstarts, and when it comes to Zeitgeist 2.0 — real-time trend tracking and trend recognition, Twitter moves even faster than “breaking news” scrawls and updates.
The most famous example is the rapidity with which the Twittersphere responds to tragic events like earthquakes, tornadoes, and terrorist events like the shootings in #mumbai.
For a second, let’s forget www.twitter.com and look at how differently people access and engage with Twitter. Not only can one interface via the Web or via 40404 via SMS, as a human, but there are hundreds of desktop clients, iPhone and smart phone apps, and through hundreds of third-party mashup and rehashing sites and services.
That’s what’s funny: A large proportion of the API calls to Twitter these days aren’t even made by humans twittering all day long. A large proportion of calls to the servers are made by third party search engines, are made by third party services that offer sundry services: finding friends, tracking news, graphing conversation, tracking searches, plotting trends, collecting metrics, following people, unfollowing people.
In many ways, the Twitter platform has become almost a fungible INPUT / OUTPUT flow of data, like IP or like tap water, or like the electrical mains — all the creativity and all of the development is happening as a result of this relatively featureless and structureless raw platform.
Everybody admits that the elegance of Facebook‘s interface does an amazing job of hand-holding the diverse levels of technological prowess that Facebook users possess. However, Facebook shares many things in common with Second Life: It is a walled-garden, is very cliquey and very hard to cross-pollinate. And finally, Facebook works very hard at defining what the user experience is to the best of its ability in a world where openness and open access can often work for you instead of against you.
The biggest problem that Social Network Service and Online Virtual Communities make is being too invested in the outcome of how the community will grow and develop. To be successful in community development and community creation, one must be committed to the community and meeting their needs versus being committed to giving them what the community producer thinks the community wants and needs — often very different things.
At the end of the day, Twitter has always been more like the cardboard box holding the toy than the toy itself. Twitter seems to have built the perfect box to play in and with until you decide what sort of toy you want to build — and then Twitter makes it possible for everyone and their brother to take a go at building the toy in the box, always just focusing on being the most amusing, easy-to-use, scalable, and compelling box possible.
Then and now
To me, Twitter is a lot like IRC from back in the day. When you install Internet Relay Chat, there are no rooms and there are no members. Only by engaging and by creating rooms and groups (Twitter and IRC share the same conventions in terms of using the hash, #, to indicate a self-organizing group that only exists as long as people choose to use it.
People who don’t get Twitter really have not spent enough time with it. There are tons of ways people can use Twitter: Many people use Twitter as an alternative to an RSS feed news reader, following the Twitter feeds of news organizations and news alerts, including links and so forth. Twitter doesn’t care how you use it: passive reading or active conversation.
In fact, Twitter is such a neutral solution that you might very well forget that you’re a member, which is why there might be a perception that over 60 percent of all of the users who register never go back: Twitter doesn’t want to be too much trouble.Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.