Monday, June 8, 2009

Why there are too many people on Twitter

Starting in mid-May, I stepped out of the Twitter stream. Instead of tweeting four times a day, I stopped cold turkey, no nicotine patch, no nothing. And you know what, even this convicted gadget guy, didn't miss it. Not one bit.

While I was gone, Twitter lived on, much the same way that it always has and like a good conversation or a good book, I was able to pick where I left off. Of course, Twitter hadn't changed much because despite the relentless media hype, its growth flattened.

Let's face it. Twitter is a limited application. If you follow the right techniques, you can amass a million followers, though it helps if you are a celebrity or Aston Kutcher. But how many conversations do you really want to join. In this universe, time is finite and while you can have many followers, we are limited to a few hundred friends.

Twitter works best for those who are connected all the time and can follow the stream as part of their daily course of business. For all of us techies out there, and I hate to say this, but that's a small percentage of the population.

From what I understand about psychology, once more than seven people join a face-to-face conversation, it fragments. I haven't seen psychology studies on how many people you can follow on Twitter and I'll bet you haven't either, but in your heart of hearts you know how many that number is and it doesn't run into the thousands.

What I am saying is that Twitter is not Facebook. It will appeal to limited number of people and that's okay. I peg that number at number at 11 million, when all is said and done. A gut feeling, nothing more. Look, about 60 percent of all users abandon their accounts within a month, finding that the hype doesn't match the experience. People will come and go. Hopefully, a core group remains.

Twitter rose because it took the best of Facebook--the status report--and gave you a way to broadcast to your friends without the apps and causes that cluttered Facebook's status report. (No thank you, I don't want good Karma nor do I want to sponsor a pet, and also I am not a bad person because I have repeatedly ignored your requests to do so.) Facebook realized this and changed it's user interface to head off the challenge from Twitter.

Before the Twitter hype hit its zenith, many of my PR friends said that Twitter would not make a difference in how their companies marketed products. I agreed, but I also pointed out that people were on on Twitter so business had to pay attention.

In the end, PR and marketers agreed did notice. The notorious and no longer infamous bank robber Willie Sutton once said you rob banks because that's where the money is. Marketers flocked to the Internet because that's were the cool kids hang, especially the coveted demographic of affluent people who make big decisions with big money.

If anything has ruined Twitter, it's the rush to monetize it. Left alone, Twitter could have grown organically, free from the media's diminishing but destructive gaze. That's not possible now. Once the shiny new toy that beckoned, Twitter will do a quiet fade away. The cool kids will find another playground. The only question remains, does Google buy Twitter or does Facebook dance on the remains?

p.s. by the way, I stand by this post even in light of the importance of Twitter in keeping people informed about the stunted revolution in Iran. Once the old regime is back in power, all those Twitter accounts will die like the aborted attempt at democracy.

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