I try to stay “hip” to the latest Internet innovations. I use Facebook, LinkedIn, Meebo, Google Latitudes, and yes, I’ve tried Twitter. After about four months of tweeting, however, I think I understand the Tweetosphere enough to draw this simple conclusion: Twitter, in its current form, will not change the Internet and could indeed be obsolete or replaced within one year.
This is a bold prediction and one that seems to go against all the hype and indeed the massive growth of Twitter. But there are three significant problems with Twitter that will prevent it from becoming a true Internet juggernaut – spam, one-way communication and poor ease of use.
First, the spam. Twitter is the ideal medium for spammers. They set up scripts to follow as many people as possible and then hope that those people are using an “auto-follow” program and will then follow them. I’m one of those suckers that auto-follows – when I started using Twitter, it seemed to be the thing to do. After about one week of auto-following, I was getting several hundred messages a day that could just have easily ended up in my email spam folder. To prove this point, I just logged on to my “TweetDeck” and looked at the last ten tweets I received. Here are some of the samples:
Learn all the stuff the Twitter Pros won’t tell you about! [Link]
Quick Ways to Make Money Online [Link]
Need more room to promote your product or service? Do it on [Link]
MAKE MONEY ONLINE (EASY ONLINE MONEY) WORK ONLINE [Link]
Of course, one obvious way to stop this junk is to stop auto-following, but then that supposedly diminishes the value of Twitter, right (if I just wanted to see what my friends were up to, I could look at my Facebook homepage). So my solution on TweetDeck – and I suspect I am not the first to come up with this scheme – was to create two feeds, one called “Friends” and one called “Actual Friends.” The friends feed is the stuff from auto-follows, I basically just delete these as soon as they come in. The “actual friends” feed is from people that I know and might actually care to hear from.
But even though I’ve basically removed the spam from my Twitter updates, there’s still problem #2 with Twitter – it seems to encourage narcissistic drivel. For some reason, people who are normally interesting and entertaining end up filling Twitter with boring, self-centered crap. Again, here’s some examples from my current TweetDeck:
WWE: Raw May 25th 09 [Link]
Ricki Lake is the New Sharon Osbourne [Link]
Listening to one of my new cd’s Jazz Moods – Jazz by the Fire. Sounds pretty sweet!
Great dinner at neighbors, beef brisket! Now it’s back to 5th grade math home work. Only 4 more days of school Yee Haa!
Now I know that some of these sound like they could be Facebook posts, but I actually think that few of these would actually make it on to Facebook. Why, because for whatever reason, people take their Facebook updates a lot more seriously. Maybe because they know that the only people who are going to see the posts are their friends, they edit themselves before posting. On Twitter, however, the same people who write interesting updates on Facebook often end up posting 25 140 character posts in the course of ten minutes, all of which are totally pointless.
So even if I filter out all the spam from people I don’t know (again, defeating one of the alleged advantages of Twitter in the first place), I’m still left with mindless clutter from the people I do know. Twitter has turned my friends into egocentric spammers – how do you filter that? My filter is just to stop reading tweets and rely on Facebook.
The last problem with Twitter – it is not user-friendly. Yes, it is easy to post a tweet, but it’s hard to organize the incoming stream of junk. This is why there is a myriad of Twitter applications popping up, like the aforementioned TweetDeck. For the first month on Twitter I was utterly confused as to how people actually got any value at all out of the service, until my friends Stacy and Don told me about apps like TweetDeck.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last ten years of Internet marketing, if you don’t make your service simple, you can’t scale (hello Second Life!). If you want to move beyond nerdy Internet geeks in Silicon Valley and get my parents and their friends in Iowa to start using your service, you can’t rely on third-party applications to explain the benefits to your audience.
Now I’m sure that there will be some who argue that my last point has already been disproven by the phenomenal growth of Twitter. But I think that this growth is the ultimate false positive, for two reasons. First, a lot of this growth is driven by people who just see Twitter as a one-way marketing channel – a way to blast a spam message to thousands of people for free and without any email spam filters or CAN-SPAM rules. Second, there’s just a novelty factor to Twitter right now. The media loves Twitter and the Twitter-craze is creating masses of new users who are signing up out of curiosity.
The problem with growth fueled by spam and curiosity is that it ultimately points to a “fad” and not a “trend.” The pet rock in the 1970s was a fad – people bought pet rocks because the media reported on it and it seemed like a funny thing to do. Then the novelty wore off and people threw their rocks away. To be a trend you need to prove value that ‘subverts the dominant paradigm.’ Twitter doesn’t do this. It’s a Facebook update without the functionality or self-editing of Facebook, but with lots of spam and a bad user experience.
In less than 140 characters: Twitter sucks. It’s over-hyped. It’s the next Second Life. Insert spam.bit.ly here.