by Ron Daly
So, why aren't you on Twitter anymore?
Simple... Signal to noise ratio. And this was before the mainstream explosion on Twitter. I was following a few dozen Twitter feeds of people in tech and a few other industries as well as a few friends. The quality of information wasn't worth the time. I don't fault the writers so much, 140 characters isn't enough to say anything particularly useful. Unless you're writing haiku.
What do you think of the mainstreaming of Twitter (and social media in general)?
Feels like 1995 all over again. Everyone had to have a homepage. They didn't know why, but they had to have it. I fell for it too. I spent a week long vacation creating a website. There's seven days I can't get back. It was a good education, but ultimately the site served no value for the company. It was just too soon. Being an early adopter isn't necessarily a good thing.
Eventually, some companies and individuals figured out how to make the web work for them. Others are still trying to figure it out. If anything, companies are finding out that one company's hugely successful model will not work a second time for another company. It takes time and trial and error for companies to create successful business models for the web, and I know of none that have it perfect. Amazon and Google are probably the closest. Nobody's been able to duplicate their success yet.
Do you think it's a fundamental failure of Twitter's design?
No. I think it's a misuse of the technology. It's a cliche but it fits -- give someone a hammer and after a while everything starts to look like a nail. The argument for Twitter is always "You don't have to write a lot to communicate. And even if you wanted to, you can't". By extension, it's going to sprout a culture not willing to commit to their words and are willing to spout gibberish. It's not an elitist thing: I found myself doing it. I was at the point on Twitter to the point where any pithy little comment or observation I had I was cranking out my iPhone and typing away all just to be active in the hopes of grabbing some followers, which is supposed to have some sort of value. I heard Jason Calacanis (of WebLogs, Mahalo, Netscape to name a few) say that every Twitter follower is worth $0.20. Fantastic. I want my buck-sixty.
Are you saying there's no value in having lots of Twitter followers?
Maybe. There's value if you can convert followers to customers -- 140 characters at a time.
That begs the question -- is there money in Twitter and social media in general?
Not yet there isn't. Twitter and Facebook can't burn through money fast enough. It seems obvious that they need to make money to survive. Or maybe that's just me. There seems to be something counterintuitive in the model of "Let's build something, see if anybody shows up and then we'll figure out how to make money". What Twitter is discovering is that if a lot of people show up and you don't have money, then you can't scale quickly enough. Don't get me wrong -- sometimes pet projects take on a life of their own. It's happened to me (although not on the same level as Twitter, darn it.). Twitter started as a curiosity project, and in theory, it's a brilliant concept. Concept and reality rarely match up. However, I can appreciate the issues with taking a solution that was minimally architected and try to scale it up to level never intended.
Facebook? No way. It's been said Facebook is the next Google of advertising or even the next Google. BS. Google figured out very early that if their little search engine was going to be something big, they needed to create a way to make money. So, they came up with an ad engine that was smart and unobtrusive. Their business model was architected into their software. On the other hand, Facebook is trying to bolt on a subpar advertising engine that just makes people angry. That's how you lose subscribers. Google's advertising was always there and is smartly targeted. Facebook is in your face and rarely accurate in its targeted ads.
So, where to now?
Stand by and wait. Every news station and car dealership and fast food restaurant and liquor manufacturer that's on Twitter and Facebook will get bored when they can't figure out how to turn friends and followers to customers. The ones that are left will have figured out a few models and we can all just copy them. Then we'll fail and then figure out our own way. Or not.